By: Carlo Massimo
There were 15 boys and girls lined up along two tables at Silver, the American restaurant and brasserie in Cathedral Heights, for its tasting event on Thursday. The kids’ ages ranged from 4 to 10.
Chef Ype Von Hengst came out of the kitchen to announce the tasting menu: avocado toast two ways, quinoa breakfast porridge, quesadillas, and grilled cheese sandwiches with studded with broccoli. The menu also included tacos with marinated chicken and wild-caught shrimp from the Carolinas, a tofu pineapple stir-fry, and gluten-free pasta with lamb and quinoa meatballs in roasted pepper sauce.
The parents held their breath. The kids patiently examined every plate, took a bite, and scored the course on a scale of one to five. Balsamic vinegar? Not popular. Avocado? Quite popular. The quinoa? Good but too bland.
In fact, one boy spat it out with magnificent distaste. The daring gluten-free pasta and lamb meatballs, a vortex of foods that kids traditionally hate? A staggering success. This was not particularly surprising to Bob Giaimo and Ype Von Hengst, the award-winning co-owners of Silver and its sister Silver Diner group.
“With cooking shows and more cooking at home,” said Giaimo, “kids’ taste is getting more sophisticated.” Giaimo and Von Hengst’s philosophy is one of its time: healthy, sophisticated, locally-based cooking for healthy, sophisticated, neighborhood clientele. Von Hengst reminisced about his childhood in rural Holland.
“My town had 8,000 people, and I think that the word organic – if you opened a dictionary you wouldn’t see it in there. Everything came from the farm. No pesticides, no Monsanto. Just local,” he said.
It’s an aspect of cooking that Von Hengst takes seriously. He personally knows several farmers who grow Silver’s produce — including eggs from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and blueberries from New Jersey. Silver proudly serves only local beers, like Port City and DC Brau. Compass Coffee, based in Shaw, provides the coffee.
The wine list is American only, with New Mexican sparkling wine instead of prosecco and several well-known Virginia and California brands. Richard Torres, Silver’s mixologist, uses local spirits like Green Hat gin in his elaborate take on Prohibition-era cocktails.
Silver is proudly flexitarian, which accommodates vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and just about every other imaginable diet. The restaurant fills up with families during dinner hours. Happy hour and weekend brunch bring young couples and friends, often from nearby American University.
Staying open for four consecutive meals is hard work for a restaurant. But Giaimo is an old hand. He opened his first place, a sandwich shop, as a freshman at Georgetown. He later opened the American Café. It was the time of Alice Waters and her legendary Chez Panisse, when urban, organic, farm-to-table cuisine was entering the American middle class vocabulary. American Café was a trend setter. It was the first restaurant on the East Coast to serve croissant sandwiches.
Giamo and Von Hengst opened the Silver Diner in Bethesda in the late 1900s. The Silver Diner was a suburban take on American Café’s high-end family dining. It served milkshakes and burgers, nostalgic American diner food with the same commitment to local organic produce and sophistication.
The Silver on Wisconsin Avenue, founded a year ago this October, is Giaimo’s triumphal re-entry into the urban food scene. The décor is art deco. A tiled column in the entrance was inspired by the Chrysler Building in New York.
The menu features avocado toast, salad bowls heaped with farro, boozy milkshakes, and a vast range of gluten-free options. The kids menu, of course, is the same: healthy, sophisticated, and tailored to its audience.
“You get so tired of every kid’s menu being exactly the same: “Mac and cheese and chicken nuggets,” said one of the mothers at the tasting event. “This is better for me and the kids.”
Silver New American Brasserie will be holding its one-year anniversary the week of Columbus Day with an all-day, all-week happy hour. Silver welcomes the kids because he trusts their taste in food.