Fourteen years on, Persimmon Restaurant—on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase border—still delivers on its promise of a fine dining experience.
The decor is a bit tired, but the mostly older patrons seem to enjoy being treated to silver, glassware and starched white linen. The space is tight, but not uncomfortable. The wait staff is generally efficient, if not especially warm. But, be warned: This is not a kid-friendly restaurant, so don’t bring Junior along.
Despite some minor disappointments, what shines at Persimmon Restaurant is still on the plate.
Chef Damian Salvatore opened the doors of Persimmon on Wisconsin Avenue near Walsh Street in 1998. The restaurant has always enjoyed a generous level of popularity, as it stands out in the area for serving innovative, haute American cuisine in an intimate, romantic atmosphere. Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents quickly made it a favorite destination, whether to splurge on a night out, to impress clients or even to pop the question.
But today, the atmosphere is a little staid, especially when local diners may pick from an ever-expanding variety of restaurants in the neighborhood.
The lunch and brunch menus are a bargain, because guests have the opportunity to sample Salvatore's clever twists on traditional dishes at significantly lower prices. (The dinner menu is a little pricier.) And, the restaurant is quiet and bright during the day.
On Sundays, choose from breakfast entrees like French toast, eggs with duck confit hash or waffles with warm fruit compote. Or, opt for the lunch-style entrees, like a hamburger or crab cake sandwich. The menu also lists lobster rolls for $16, but—at a recent visit—the waiter sheepishly informed us that the price was now $24 for two lobster rolls. We had planned to order "the specialty of the house,” but the price and experience changed our minds.
But now for the good part: Even if you think you don’t like oysters, try the appetizer with creamy oysters fried in crisp wasabi-flavored panko breadcrumbs. The oysters arrive atop slivers of scallions, cucumbers and peppers—a relish bathed in bits of cilantro dancing in a soy-based, citrusy vinegar dipping sauce.
Salvatore's soup-of-the-day was a stunner—a mushroom-onion concoction with the smoky, sultry flavor of caramelized vegetables. The dish was a tiny bit salty, but the chef tempered the rich broth with handmade breadcrumbs and shredded fontina cheese.
His Nicoise salad, with a choice of grilled tuna or salmon, was a well-balanced work of art: a generous portion of fish perched atop a tower of crisp jicama, roasted red peppers, potatoes dressed in garlic oil, olives, haricot verts, hard-boiled eggs and colorful baby greens. Adding to this fete-on-a-plate was a potent lemon-oil dressing flavored with a hint of peppery anchovies.
Next came a fiesta of flavors and textures. The sumptuous fish taco was a combination of pico de gallo, tart slaw and creamy avocado, which perfectly complimented the lightness of the sauteed fish drizzled in chipotle sauce. Inside the soft flour tortilla, no one ingredient overpowered any other. Instead, the ingredients combined in a complex layering of textures and flavors.
All good things must come to an end, and that brings me to the very-unappetizing fried chicken with biscuits and gravy. Not being an experienced Southern cook, I can’t say if the gravy was authentic, but it was certainly tasteless. The chicken breast was dry, and so were the enormous biscuits. This is one American dish Salvatore should forget about.
Overall, we were pleased with our meal, and I would recommend Persimmon. The chef still cooks with finesse, has a large repertoire of excellent dishes, provides attractive presentations and satisfies the American palate. But, competition is fierce, and the new upstarts may push Salvatore to up his game. In the end, though, most diners overlook minor mistakes and are happy to eat a delicious meal.
Persimmon Restaurant: 7003 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda-Chevy Chase, MD 20815. Telephone: 301-654-9860.
Have you been to Persimmon? Rate and review Persimmon at its Patch directory listing.