Cuisine: You never quite know what you’ll find at Jeff and Barbara Black’s Zen-slick suburban dining room. Sure, there will always be the solid raw bar and reliable wood-fired steaks and seafood. But beyond that, the ever-changing menu might skitter from fried chicken and waffles to white-bean-and-prosciutto bruschetta to plantain-crusted shrimp with mango salsa.
Mood: With its twinkling pool out front and mood-lit dining room inside, Black’s stands out among its neighboring chain restaurants. It’s the closest Bethesda gets to a Malibu brand of chicness and, not surprisingly, has become a magnet for expensively groomed thirtysomethings with a taste for $10 Dark and Stormys. But it’s not all see-and-be-seen: Look beneath the arty mural of a vineyard and you’ll see plenty of casual families and empty-nesters.
Best for: An oyster craving; happy hour; a date or catch-up with friends; late-night dessert.
Best dishes: Squares of airy cornbread with honey butter; mussels with tomato, lemon, and shallot; well-shucked oysters on the half shell (we lean toward the West Coast varieties); hanger steak with chimichurri or béarnaise; fried chicken with pecans and sweet-potato waffles; a spicy, saffron-scented stew packed with mussels, prawns, and other seafood and served with aïoli-slathered toasts; salty-caramel trio (with a dreamy caramel tart); Key-lime pie.
Insider tips: The blond-wood bar room is an equally comfortable place to sit, especially in the booths for two. Happy-hour specials abound, with early- and late-night deals. Sunday is half-price wine-bottle night.
Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.