By Joan Durbin | Photography by Samantha Shal
Historic Woodstock is fast becoming one of the most interesting dining destinations outside the perimeter, thanks to its many top-notch restaurants and chefs.
David Silverman is a fine example of those kitchen wizards who have migrated here from prestigious kitchens and backgrounds because they value the area’s charm and welcoming residents.
Silverman’s rock solid resume includes executive cheffing at premiere spots like Strip and Prime, as well as a stint as fishmonger at Ray’s on the River and 17 years running sushi operations. He and wife Karen met when they were working at Prime.
Though he grew up in Marietta, Silverman now lives in Woodstock with his wife and four children, ages 9 to 13.
“When we went out to eat, we would always go looking for good seafood and we always had to drive at least 25 or 30 minutes to find it,” he recalled.
In May 2014, he and Karen opened Reel Seafood on Main Street’s southern stretch.
“I really wanted to have a restaurant in this area and be able to feed my family, friends and neighbors. Seafood was definitely something I knew I could do and do well. And there was no fresh seafood-centric here in this area,” Silverman said.
Fans of aquatic victuals of all sorts will rejoice when perusing Reel’s menu. Oysters, salmon, shrimp, calamari, trout, scallops, tuna and lobster are all there. As a seafood aficionado myself, what especially sets Reel apart is its nightly specials, which can be any fish that Silverman’s vendors are offering that meets the chef’s twin demands of impeccable freshness and quality.
Sourcing is important with seafood, and Reel’s comes from around the United States and Canada. Lobster is from Maine, flounder is from North Carolina, trout from the North Carolina mountains, blue cod from the northeast and swordfish from Rhode Island. Oysters are sourced from Virginia to Maine and as far north as Canada.
His longstanding relationships with trustworthy vendors from the West Coast, Boston and New York, as well as those based more locally, allow him to offer specials that have ranged from halibut, rockfish and monkfish to Hawaiian opah, cobia, arctic char and striped bass.
Guests have the opportunity to try a fish that may be new to them, and with Silverman’s deft hand at cooking techniques and seasoning, they can look forward to a gratifying experience.
Silverman cooks across the culinary spectrum, with notable Asian, Southern, coastal Northeastern and Cajun influences. While his concepts can encompass a potpourri of flavors, nothing is heavy-handed.
“When someone takes the time and puts in the effort to catch a fish, I try to put it on the plate with a lot of attention into it. Other ingredients are something to complement it. I don’t want it overpowered, I want them to bring out what that piece of fish has naturally,” he affirmed.
Scallops, for example, are large and nicely cooked, with the requisite golden sear on the exterior and all sweet tenderness inside. Setting them off is a succotash of fresh vegetables such as corn, okra, sweet red peppers and butterbeans simmered with poblano peppers and morsels of claw and knuckle lobster meat that has been lightly sautéed. The result is a highly flavorful mélange that pairs very well with the simply yet faultlessly executed scallops.
Shrimp and grits is at the top of many of their diners’ lists, Silverman said, and once I sampled his grits, I understood. He cooks stone ground Logan Turnpike grits in chicken stock, heavy cream and a bit of milk to mitigate the cream’s heaviness and richness, then stirs in pepper jack cheese, which seasons the grits with a touch of sassiness.
There’s a savory takeoff on Low Country Boil that subs a Maine lobster tail for shrimp, and a lobster roll of shredded, rather than chunked, lobster that tastes unmistakably clean and fresh.
I’ve never been enamored of swordfish until I tasted Silverman’s version. Glazed with the Japanese rice wine called mirin and sweet chili paste, this swordfish was succulent and cooked just to the right texture of moist toothsomeness. Set on a bed of risotto with edamame and shiitake mushrooms and seasoned with a kiss of ginger, this may have been my favorite of all the dishes I have tasted there so far.
The menu also holds promise for carnivores. There are steaks on the menu, such as a traditional New York strip au poivre with shallots and brandy, but also a juicy burger of house ground brisket, short rib and chuck.
Reel’s certified Angus beef is an exclusive restaurant grade just below prime, and hand cut in his kitchen. It’s reflective of Silverman’s fundamental doctrine.
“It’s all about quality and buying the best,” he said. “If I can’t put out a good product consistently, I don’t do it at all.”
Chicken from Georgia’s Springer Mountain also makes an appearance. On my next visit I want to try his fried chicken, brined in buttermilk with chili, cumin and garlic then rolled in fried and ground white corn tortillas mixed with panko.
End a meal with house made dessert such as a luscious bread pudding of locally baked challah blended with a creamy mix of eggs, cream cheese, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and Jack Daniels bourbon. Topped with salted caramel ice cream, this is a homey yet decadent treat. Others include key lime tart, crème brulee and chocolate lava cake.
The casually appointed restaurant is painted Santorini blue, a Greek islands hue that creates a wonderfully maritime atmosphere.
“I wanted guests to feel surrounded by water,” Silverman explained.
Guests may sit indoors in the dining area, at the full bar, or outside on the patio. Those who are at the chef’s bar can watch Silverman and his crew work their magic in the open kitchen. Karen stops by to check on diners while she attends to all the details that ensure all Reel’s functions are running smoothly.
“Her background in hospitality, and mine in hospitality and kitchens, allow us to be hands on operators,” Silverman said. “One or both of us is always here.”
Reel is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and serves brunch on Sundays.