Peter and I savored an excellent Chinese lunch at Da Hong Pao Restaurant, 1409 14th St. NW. At the entrance, we were greeted by a trio of smiling cat figures, an ancient Asian good luck symbol. An encouraging sign. The place was humming, unusual for a midday Monday. Moreover, we noticed folks chowing down on dishes normally unavailable on many Chinese menus. One large table was enjoying Peking duck with the usual embellishments.
We were led to a table by the window, where we perused the extensive, illustrated dim sum lineup. After some debate, we decided on steamed shrimp and chives dumplings. The trio of gossamer morsels practically melted in my mouth. Salt-and-pepper fried squid was equally delectable. The tempura-like coating enveloped the tender, perfectly cooked cephalopods. Chinese-style broccoli provided an ideal, healthful accompaniment. The only misfire was the steamed spareribs. which we found bony and difficult to eat, especially using chopsticks. Moreover, we could barely discern the garlic-black bean sauce.
Other dim sum options include steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, fried spring rolls, shrimp stuffed eggplant and exotica like steamed chicken feet and beef stomach (tripe).
Da Hong Pao’s regular menu goes on and on, featuring familiar and not so familiar dishes: sweet-and-sour pork, seafood chow fun, grouper with bitter melon over rice, frog legs Hong Kong style, the aforementioned Peking duck, offered in whole or half portions. We found a brief listing of wine (including a pleasant pinot grigio), beer and cocktails plus assorted teas.
Da Hong Pao can get hectic on weekends. In fact, a friend warned us, “It’s a zoo.” Da Hong Pao is open daily for lunch and dinner. For hours and more information, visit www.dahongpaodc.com.
Coming early next year is Bar Japonais, 1520 14th St. NW. The future restaurant is an offshoot of Mount Vernon Triangle’s French-Chinese hotspot Bar Chinois, 455 I St. NW. For updates, visit www.barjaponaisdc.com.
Near Da Hong Pao, we stumbled into Rice Restaurant and Rice Market, 1608 14th St. NW. This two-level establishment offers everything imaginable. Upstairs is a restaurant/bar; downstairs, you’ll find wine, sake, soju, beer, sodas, fresh produce, Asian oils, sauces and spices, cookware and cookbooks, even a sushi bar to go. It also offers cooking demos and catering. For more information, visit www.ricedc.com.
At dLeña by Richard Sandoval, 475 K St. NW (Mount Vernon Triangle), diners celebrate El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Oct. 3-Nov. 5. The Mexican holiday honors deceased family and friends with food, drinks and camaraderie. South of the Border (and in other Hispanic communities), the holiday is usually celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, when people decorate home altars with marigolds and candy skulls. They also place the departed loved ones’ favorite victuals and beverages on family gravesites.
Following this colorful tradition, dLeña guests are invited to experience the kitchen’s artistry with a special menu. Dishes encompass empanadas de muertos (chicken, cheese, avocado, crema fresca, cilantro puree); filet de mole negro (beef tenderloin with homemade mole sauce) and much more. Drinks are equally innovative, showcasing smokey sweet potato margaritas and an exotic purple corn Oaxacan old fashioned with mezcal, agave and crispy corn kernels.
Meanwhile, dLena’s regular menu, including Saturday and Sunday brunch, will be available. For hours and Day of the Dead reservations (highly recommended), visit www.dlenadc.com.
State of our Union
Things got even spicier in the Union Market neighborhood as El Presidente arrived at 1255 Union St. NE. Showcasing the classic and innovative cuisine and energy of Mexico City, El Presidente is the latest venture from James Beard Award winner Stephen Starr. His Philadelphia-based STARR Restaurant group is also behind the Union Market district’s stylish St. Anselm and the bakery Bread Alley, as well as Logan Circle’s wonderful French restaurant Le Diplomate.
EL Presidente’s corporate chef is Andres Padilla, whose inspiration comes from Mexico’s Baja, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Puebla regions. His exciting menu encompasses oysters garnished with savory salsa, monster prawns, tostadas de pescado a la talla and whole roasted cauliflower with ancho-pecan pipian (a type of mole).
Potent potables revolve around agave, the tropical plant that produces tequila and mezcal. Besides exotic cocktails, you’ll find margaritas So far, El Presidente is open for dinner only. For hours and more information, visit www.elpresidentedc.com.
Also Coming to Shaw…
The creators of Falafel Brothers, 2016 Ninth St. NW (where Andy’s Pizza to Go used to be), are Philip Ajaj and Pierre Stone, the culinary duo behind Jamaican restaurant Just Jerk located in Lanham, Maryland. Look for falafel wraps, Mediterranean flatbread pizza, lavash chips with exotic dips and build-your-own options. Watch for updates. (Andy’s, by the way, moved across the street to the former Hazel space. For more information, visit www.eatandyspizza.com.)
In Shaw, neighbors and friends bid adieu to La Jambe, 1550 Seventh St. NW. The beloved wine bar/café/cheese and charcuterie counter has folded after seven years in business. Its five-year-old sister restaurant continues to provide French food and wine in its Union Market location.