Red kuri squash with celery panna cotta brings life to the early fall harvest salad ($14)
Reid Shilling’s restaurant is a culinary ode to his heritage, the Mid-Atlantic and the spirit of creativity.
Family: It helps make us who we are, and it’s often what we return to when we want the comfort of home. And this is a cornerstone of the new Shilling Canning Company in the The Yards. It’s the work of executive chef Reid Shilling—an alum of The Dabney and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro— whose kin formerly ran a canning business of the same name in the Baltimore region.
But it extends beyond the name. Shilling’s wife, Sara Quinteros-Shilling, is partner and director of business development. The nutrition expert and hospitality pro concurrently runs Little Chef’s Kitchen—and is a new mom to their 14-month-old daughter. And our server, Brandon, has known the gourmand for some 15 years.
He shares this detail with a smile as my husband, Luke, and I settle in to our seats in front of the raw bar (manned by Garrett Brower). It’s part of the Carrara marble chef’s counter—the best seat from which to watch the action in the kitchen, with its gleaming wood-fired oven topped with the same copper found at the Library of Congress.
Cocktails from Britt Ingalls utilize elements from the on-site garden.
But there really isn’t a bad space: The 75-seat eatery glows with warmth. The bar is near the entrance, welcoming diners to belly up. There are whitewashed brick walls and gray wood panels, wide swaths of windows, modern pendant lighting, and semiprivate dining areas that sit pretty near the wine cellar and charcuterie-aging room. It has the feel of a historic Mid-Atlantic abode.
The food and drink follow suit with seasonal, regional ingredients; while there are mainstays, elements of the menu change every day. And this latest iteration is an homage to autumn’s bounty. Cocktails are concocted by the talented Britt Ingalls, who incorporates herbs and flowers from the on-site garden to create housemade tinctures and shrubs. Try the Arbiter of Success: It mixes Green Hat Aronia Gin, Salers Aperitif, vermouth and bitters for a clean, simple sip, and the gin doesn’t overpower the other ingredients.
At just 75 seats, the space allows for a generous look into the open kitchen.
Selections from the raw bar include a blue crab from the Chester River. The meat is poached in lager and cider vinegar before the team picks it for you. It sings of the sea, with a slight creaminess and acidity from its poaching liquids. We follow this with some snacks. The preserved garden vegetables have lip-smacking yellow heirloom tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, chive oil and dill from the garden. The tart produce opens the taste buds, while a scoop of lush buttermilk cheese provides a foil. A can’t miss? The Surryano ham. Two rounds of honey cake arrive on a wood serving board and are piled high with ribbons of the stuff. A layer of benne butter separates the ham from the cake, and soaks into the sweet dough; and a sprinkling of sesame seeds pop against the ham. It hits all the senses—salty, sweet, rich, crispy, even briny thanks to a side of pickled radish.
Executive chef Reid Shilling lent his name to the restaurant.
Small plates are stellar; duos should choose one or two to split. The early fall harvest salad is beautifully presented. A red kuri squash is charred ever so slightly and forms a bowl that cradles a bright but velvety celery panna cotta that I find addicting. Ripe slices of pear and greens amp things up with crunch—and the brown butter vinaigrette gilds the lily. The sweet potato is a story of transformative colorblocking; orange hues abound, from the mousseline and roasted tuber (it’s prepared two ways) to the purple haze carrots (both shaved and glazed). Yellow oyster mushrooms, Black Rock Orchard figs and chopped Virginia peanuts are also scattered about the plate. Each bite is composed yet different, sometimes with a creamy hit of mousseline, sometimes with smoky goodness—but nearly always with the peanuts to tie it all together. The grilled Beaver Creek quail, meanwhile, is rustic and earthy; it’s marinated in watermelon-molasses barbecue sauce, and served with chanterelles resting in a squash porridge and onion rings that elevate this typical fried food—buttermilk soaked; dredged; fried; then put over the grill, where they are imbued with flavors from the fire.
Plenty of the fresh seafood on the menu is sourced directly from regional fishermen.
The dish I will eat again and again, however— and will mourn when it leaves the menu—is the black sea bass. The tender fish, with its slightly crisped skin, is teamed with ember-roasted honeynut squash. It’s an interesting pairing, but perfect for the warming flavors of autumn, with its brown butter that melds into the squash and black walnuts for rich mouthfeel. Oh, my; I want this on every holiday table this fall.
And if we are speaking of the spirit of the season, then I suggest you trade Thanksgiving’s typical pumpkin pie for Shilling’s corncake dessert. It’s topped with a scoop of housemade vanilla bean ice cream, and a scattering of Butterfinger and candied peanuts dance across the top. It’s reminiscent of the flavors of childhood past, but a unique bite to end the meal—and it’s fitting of a restaurant born out of family heritage, but making a new history with each passing day.
SHILLING CANNING COMPANY
360 Water St. SE, 202.554.7474
Raw bar, $18-$75; snacks, $5-$17; small plates, $13-$29; family style, $50 (serves three to four); sides, $7-$9; desserts: $12
Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri. and Sat., 5-11pm; closed Mondays
Photography by: Greg Powers