5 Must-Try Dishes at Whaley’s in Navy Yard

By Rina Rapuano  |  June 16, 2016

Photos by Rey Lopez

A seafood restaurant and raw bar on the Anacostia waterfront might seem like a drastic departure for the team behind DGS Delicatessen, but owners Nick and David Wiseman grew up enjoying the bounty of the mid-Atlantic. The cousins tapped executive chef Dan Perron (Fiola Mare, Blue Duck Tavern and The Oval Room) to execute their ode to fresh seafood, channeling his perspective on briny flavors. Here are five must-try dishes at Whaley’s:

Crispy squash blossoms
Perron admits that this is the most tedious dish to make on the menu, but says it’s probably the best-seller. He estimates that a plate of these lands on about 90% of the tables each night — and for good reason. The kitchen starts by gently removing the stamen from the middle of the squash flower, filling it with chopped shrimp (that must be peeled and deveined first, of course) before the addition of ginger aïoli, espelette pepper and chives. Each blossom is then stuffed by hand taking care not to rip the sides. Perron thinks he’ll be able to source the blossoms through the end of summer, and we recommend trying them on the newly opened patio.

Clams “casino”
While this is mainly a pretty traditional version of the popular New England appetizer, the quotes around “casino” are there to show that the chef has taken one great liberty by swapping chorizo for the usual bacon. He’s topping Cape Cod middleneck clams — which he says are slightly larger than littlenecks — on the half-shell topped with a blend of garlic, shallots, red peppers, chorizo and Parmesan — all garnished with croutons after they’re baked. Perron likes that the dish maintains that comfort-food familiarity but still has an interesting twist.    

Fluke sashimi
Nick Wiseman says the menu changes daily, and Perron confirms that this dish might feature fluke and apricots one day and kampachi and crenshaw melon the next — all depending on what looks good from his fishmonger and market. “Summer’s my favorite season for food in general,” he says. “I just couldn’t wait until I saw melons available.” Aside from those variables, a few elements remain the same. The chef gives the fish a light cure in salt, sugar and a lot of lemon zest for about 30 minutes to give it a firmer texture and add flavor; it’s then generally complemented by a yuzu vinaigrette, shaved radish, pink peppercorns and trout roe.

Tempura-fried soft-shell crabs
Perron says that so far, this is probably his top-selling entree. We loved how meaty the soft-shells were the night we ordered them, plus the remarkably light and well-seasoned tempura batter that also makes an appearance on those lovely squash blossoms. He mainly sources his soft-shells from Crisfield, Md., and brings another local element into the dish by adding peanuts to his romesco, a sauce also flavored with red peppers, roasted garlic and Marcona almonds. The dish also features roasted tomatillos and house pickled pearl onions.  

Seafood risotto
The first thing you’ll notice about this dish is that it’s massive. Even the small — which they recommend for two people to share — looked about the size of an 18-inch pizza. The large is said to feed three or four and must be served in a barge. The second thing you’ll notice is how pretty it is, with its bounty of seafood perched on top of the golden platter of rice. Lastly, you’ll take in the magical aroma of vadouvan (a French curry blend), lemon butter, lemongrass, fresno chiles, kaffir lime, coconut milk and fresh basil — not to mention the incredibly rich seafood stock used to make the risotto. Bottom line? This is a really special dish.

301 Water St. SE; no phone yet