On a recent post-work visit to Rapp Session, the new oyster bar sidled up to Rappahannock on Grace Street, I’m reminded of a bodega I visited on a trip to Seville, Spain, many moons ago. There were only stand-up tables and a steady circulation of patrons ambling by for a snack and a cerveza who were then off again while sunlight shifted on the walls.
This space is long and narrow with drop-down ledges along one wall that, when propped up, would be just wide enough to hold a plate of almonds and olives ($5) and one of the savory and complex cocktails. It has a seaside vibe, but rest assured, there are no daiquiris or frilly drinks here. These potions could grow hair on your chest.
It’s pretty inside plaster walls peeled back strategically to expose brick, and the rest left intact to hang nostalgic oyster ephemera and shelves of product. Everyone seems to want to sit at the bar with its sturdy wooden stools and supportive foot rests. Never do you have to fight for a spot, though I could see this changing soon.
While you can certainly stay as long as you want, Rapp Session is a casual, easy place where you might float in to swill a glass of sparkling rosé on tap ($8) along with a few Rappahannock Oyster Co. Olde Salts ($1 each) for happy hour and then be on your way. Or you might stop by in the early morning for coffee ($1.95) and a soft, sweet cinnamon bun ($3) still cooling off from the oven. Or you could sit for a spell at one of the few tables and make your way through the raw bar and snacks, as well as small plates that easily become dinner.
Oysters are the draw, naturally. They’re plucked from the Chesapeake Bay farms of owners Ryan and Travis Croxton. If you go for an assortment, they’re arranged from sweet to briny on a bed of crushed ice ($13.50 for six). Maybe you drizzle yours with the puckering mignonette, perhaps you wake them up with lemon or you dunk them in cocktail sauce. Or possibly you just slurp them undressed as they slide easily from the half shell to stomach. Doesn’t matter. These are the best bivalves around. Period.
If you want to get real with the raw bar, order the seafood tower ($30 to $105) with oysters, mussels, shrimp, snow crab legs and even caviar, if you’re so inclined. Eating one is a sort of meditation. All goes quiet while I crack, dissect and guzzle sweet, tender meat, barely aware of bits of shell on my cheek. At times the price seems steep for the amount of food, but then again, the quality is tops.
There are heavier options on the menu, including most of the aforementioned shellfish steamed in savory broths. I try beautifully plump mussels ($7 per half pound) in a deeply rich sherry soup and lots of Sub Rosa bread for sopping and mopping. At that moment, I can’t imagine eating anything else.
From the list of snack foods, I’m surprised to find that one of my favorites is the salty fingerling potatoes, boiled and chilled and served with a pink cloud of Calabrian pepper aioli ($4). The bluefish dip ($4) is equally simple, if a bit dry, and served with a cascade of saltines. It’s good, but the ceviche ($12) shrimp with diced avocado, citrus, red onion and a little red pepper for heat is much better. Mounds of it drape over more Sub Rosa bread which I mightily adore but not in this instance. Eat the fish straight. Please.
Each time I visit, snails ($8) are on special. They’re meaty and plump, though overdone in a pool of thick red sauce crowned with crème fraiche. Top-notch ingredients and simple preparation is the reason to come to Rapp Session and really, I just want my saucy pool to be butter and garlic.
I do appreciate the rich crème fraiche egg salad that comes with grinnell (sometimes known as a bowfin) caviar ($14 per half ounce). Small bits of chopped egg, diced capers and red onion are gathered in a creamy blend. I spoon pearly black fish eggs overtop for each bite, and it’s a study in texture and salt.
The other half of Rapp Session is a market with sundries and things you might never buy for yourself such as heirloom salt ($3 per ounce) but they’d make great hostess gifts. Coffee, red lentils, Demerara sugar and bitters line the shelves, along with a selection of beer from all the local haunts ($2 each or $10.99 for a mix-and-match six-pack).
The highlight of Rapp Session’s hybrid concept, though, is its shellfish by the pound, plus cuts of fish from the Rappahannock menu next door if you call a day ahead. The Croxton cousins are making their spoils available in bulk to us regular people. And I, for one, am thankful. S
318 E. Grace St.
Daily 7 a.m.-2 a.m.