Modern Caribbean restaurant St. James opens on 14th Street DC
Cane and St. James owner Jeanine Prime shares the flavors of her native Trinidad. Photography by Melena De Florimonte
After a year in the making, the highly anticipated Caribbean restaurant St. James opens tonight on 14th Street. Owner Jeanine Prime, who is also behind the Trinidadian restaurant Cane on Capitol Hill, designed this 67-seat venue as an ode to the mixed cuisine of her native island with African, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and French influences.
The restaurant, a former Quarter + Glory cocktail haunt, has been brightened up with whitewashed bricks, tropical plants, and a 14-seat chartreuse-hued bar. Spirits star Glendon Hartley (Service Bar, Causa) is behind the drinks. The son of Trinidadian immigrants, Hartley says he plans to showcase Caribbean flavors and ingredients beyond the usual tropical fruits and rum (yes, there’s still plenty of rum).
“You have so many ingredients that people don’t know are from the Caribbean. They think it’s just pineapple and tiki cocktails. Tiki drinks aren’t Caribbean drinks, they’re fake Polynesian drinks, and it’s sort of cultural appropriation,” says Hartley.
Hartley works in tandem with the kitchen for cocktails like the Pineapple Chow, inspired by the popular Trini snack of fruit, chili peppers, shado beni (a West Indian herb similar to cilantro) and pepper. Take those bright and spicy flavors, add Angostura White Oak Trinidadian rum and you have a delicious drink. Also: one that wastes no ingredients, a focal point of Hartley’s zero-waste bar program. Herb stems, fruit pulp, citrus scraps – they are all used in one way or another.
“In the Caribbean, we use everything,” says Hartley. “Growing up cooking with my parents, I always knew that just because you use part of something doesn’t mean the flavor is gone.”
St. James was originally planned as a family business with Jeanine’s brother, chef named James Beard Peter Prime, who has since split from Cane and joined Caribbean restaurant Bammy’s in Navy Yard. Now leading the kitchen at St. James: Longtime Cane chef Emma Hernandez and Fiola Mare alum Alfredo Romero Contreras have both collaborated with Jeanine Prime on the menu.
“The food at Cane, to create some contrast, has a strong focus on East Indian influences on our cuisine. We’ve been able to showcase the other important influences in our food here,” says Prime. Diners will find cross-flavours at St. James, like a platter with assorted curries and homemade paratha bread. But Prime is delighted to showcase West African traditions in the callaloo soup topped with fresh crab, salt cod crudo or “provisions” (root vegetables) cooked with salt pork and coconut. “The use of salted meat and fish is ubiquitous in the Caribbean and is often referred to as ‘oil down,'” Prime says. “This is how slaves could preserve food, and they are still an important way to flavor food.”
Chinese influences are found in dishes such as pork bow, steamed buns stuffed with spicy pork. The French and Portuguese flavors shine through in the twice-cooked garlic pork with gravy. The kitchen also uses local ingredients, such as crab dumplings and, a popular beach snack that’s made here with crispy Chesapeake softshells, homemade taro dumplings and coconut-curry sauce.
For dessert, Prime teamed up with Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, an engineer-turned-chef and Chopped champion of Trinidad (she is also behind Sweet Lobby on Capitol Hill). Sweets include ginger chocolate mousse and profiteroles filled with tropical ice cream.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to showcase the Caribbean cuisine lineup,” says Prime. “I hope we’ve done justice to the variety of cooking styles you see in the Caribbean.”
St James. 2017 14th Street, NW. Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Take a look at the opening menu here: