Eclectic Menu, Cool Bar = Lots of Reasons to Return to NoPa

What does NoPa stand for again? North of Pennsylvania. Yeah.

Whatever NoPa stands for, it’s Ashok Bajaj’s latest offering, taking over the space where Zola was, on the corner of 8th and F Streets in Penn Quarter.

Zola’s gone? I loved Zola. (so everyone says) Apparently not enough.

I’d been to the opening party for NoPa Kitchen + Bar, so had a chance to try some of the snacks and check out the decor. The restaurant is a nice refresh of the Zola space, looking brighter and more airy, even with the somewhat substantial furnishings, the leather seats and banquettes. There are several rooms, giving it a clubby feel. Perfect spaces for a private dinner or work entertainment (what an oxymoron!).

The menu was very interesting, with something for everyone. Delicious sounding cheeseburger and sandwiches for a workday lunch or family on vacation. Twice fried chicken and spiced nuts which I had sampled at the preview – perfect for a pre-Caps snack or post-game drink. Charcuterie and small plates for catching up with the girls. Nice sounding fish entrees and variations on steak frites for date night.

We were going for a pre-theater meal, and by the looks of the gray hairs in the dining room, I would say others were also headed to the Shakespeare Theater for The Winter’s Tale after dinner as well …

We shared the olive oil marinated octopus appetizer, along with half a dozen oysters on the half shell. The oysters, briny and lush; the octopus, tangy with vinegar and olive oil, matched with pickled (?) vegetables that still had some crunch and bite. Refreshing and perfect for an early summer evening.

Marinated octopus

My entree was a huge piece of sea bass on a pureed pea base, with a side of Japanese eggplant. Yep, eggplant – one of three foods I do not eat … Clearly, the waiter heard me say “rockfish” and repeated “rockfish” when he recapped the order, and yet managed to request and bring me a sea bass. The only flub of the night. That said, the sea bass was delicious, with rich, almost buttery flavors sealed in, and a good complement to the eggplant. If I didn’t know it was eggplant, I might have even liked it.

Sea bass with Japanese eggplant

For dessert, although many items sounded good and the sorbet trios looked fresh and fruity, it was the fried strawberry pie that jumped out at us. Clearly not to be missed. Like a fresh out of the oven Hostess or Tastycake pie, but real. And fresh. And fried.

Fried strawberry pie

All good choices, and as I looked around the dining room at the beautiful green salads, steak frites and barbequed chicken salad sandwiches, I got the sense there really weren’t too many bad choices to be had.

And I look forward to seeing if my thesis holds.

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