All Set inherited the space that belonged, for more than four decades, to the Golden Flame, a relic of a restaurant that was darker than some caves and on a street removed from much of the bustle of downtown Silver Spring. The first time I dropped by the new place, I was struck by the renovation. The interior seemed to glow, it was so bright and white. The makeover was remarkable, but the designers were so intent on establishing their nautical theme that it was tempting to wonder whether All Set was meant to be more a showpiece than a place to eat—to impress with niceness rather than attend to the details. Add in the high prices and the recent history of fine-dining restaurants in Silver Spring and it appeared All Set might be doomed from the start.
The surprise is that there’s a serious restaurant amid the splashiness. The dedication to quality is evident from the beginning (a good wine list, with lots of minerally whites to pair with seafood) to the finish (rewarding desserts conceived by ex-Volt pastry chef Shawtisha Andrews, a consultant). In between, chef Edward Reavis explores the Nantucket theme the way an ambitious novelist explores a complicated idea: from all angles. His menu encompasses nearly every preparation of fish and seafood, including soup, dips, cocktails, fry plates, and a lobster roll.
As at many restaurants, you’d do well to think small. In other words, the fine clam chowder, with its smoky, bacony backbone; a bright and balanced smoked-fish dip; a chilled parfait of crab and cocktail sauce; and best of all, a marvelously light fritto misto of cod, shrimp, and oysters. You can order the crabcake as a half portion—it makes for a good starter or a light meal and impresses for not trying to impress: This is the regional delicacy as most of us want it, modestly bound and minimally embellished. The lobster roll is magnificent to behold, but the thick roll gets in the way of the rich tail meat and, at $26 the night I had it, is overpriced. I had mixed success with the fish platters: I liked a plate of seared salmon and lentils as much as I loathed a preparation of overcooked rockfish with a too-sweet corn sauce. For fish-phobes, there’s a plate of short ribs with blue-cheese mashed potatoes—fine, if unremarkable.
All these plates command top dollar, their prices in line with power haunts in downtown DC. Is this a way of signaling that the restaurant intends to compete regionally and not just locally? It would appear so. The question is whether Silver Spring can sustain a high-priced restaurant until, or if, the rest of the area comes calling.
All Set is promising—I wish it well. I just hope it realizes that looking the part of the big time and playing the part of the big time are not as important as taking care of the little things that pave the road to the big time.