Long Trek to Sizzling H Street

If whole fish is on the menu, get it

Words to live by: If whole fish is on the menu, get it

Once, maybe twice a year, G and I find ourselves on H Street. Each time, it’s changed significantly. This past weekend, as our Uber finally freed itself from mind-numbing traffic (complete with traffic lights that ceased to work) and flew across the bridge, we marveled at the sleek new apartment buildings. And fancy new storefronts. As we neared our destination, Copycat Co, we saw a few more buildings in transition. Although, of course, we were greeted by a friendly, yet not completely with it, trio hanging out in front on an unoccupied building.

Copycat Co was a good find. Downstairs, there’s a takeout/fast casual type place with counters and limited seating. I’m betting it’s the kind of place that is jammed post-bar closings.

Upstairs, the space is tight. You’re right on top of your neighbor. A wooden bar with seats and big chalkboards with drinks sketched out.There was a good variety of drinks, with a (seasonal?) focus on dark rum. Which was fine with me. Nothing too sweet. Interesting twists on classics, and fun irregular blocks of ice.

Seating/standing was scrunched both nights. Yes, we hadn’t been on H Street since sometime in 2015, I’ll bet, but here we were on H Street two nights in a row. And at Copycat two nights in a row as well. Different couples.

Friday, two of us sat at the bar, and chatted with the other two who stood next to the railing. It was close enough for private conversation, but also meant we had to stop every time someone walked by to get to the other end of the bar. On Saturday, we lucked into a tiny table by the window, so three seats and one stander. Great table, but really loud, much louder than the previous night.

Verdict? Good drinks, food from downstairs – bao (buns) and skewers looked good, nice sized portions. So definitely a good place to grab a cocktail or two prior to dinner. Probably too loud/packed post-dinner when it’s cool kids and not oldsters from NW DC invading.

So our nights started off well, but then got hotter as we went along. As in literally. Granted, it was 97 degrees outside and it’s July in DC. But. Either air conditioning on H Street is weak or it’s not a priority or the older buildings have a tough time staying cool. Or something. Both nights, dinner was uncomfortably hot and our tap water shockingly tepid. We were constantly asking for ice on the side, even dropping it into red wine, which was too warm. Yeah. Sweaty warm.

Maketto, our stop on Friday, was well chilled in the main building. Don’t worry, yes, we’re having dinner at a clothing store. A store full of cool t-shirts and funky leather and metal jewelry for men … wonder what the women’s stuff looked like …?

We walked past the first bar and eating area, past an outdoor courtyard, which is probably lovely in September, to the back room. The air conditioning was blasting, and while it was blowing right on you, it was nice. But as it oscillated away, you definitely felt the sweat re-forming. Alas, the back area is also where the kitchen is. And there’s a ton of glass. So all lovely design elements, just not ideal for a sweltering summer evening.

The food, however, was terrific. My guess is that of the Cambodian and Taiwanese dishes, my tastes might have veered toward Cambodian. I’m not a fan of sweet dishes, and my sense was the sweeter elements were Taiwanese, although I could be misinformed.

Hands down, my favorite of the evening: the bone marrow. Spicy lamb salad style, mixed with, well, bone marrow. What could be better – rich, fiery, melded together. You’ll want the rice and cucumber accompaniments to cool off. Next favorite, probably the dumplings, described as cheese dumplings, which I guess they were, but also on a bed of spicy minced beef bolognese style sauce accented with savory flavors.

Rich bone marrow over minced lamb and rice

Rich bone marrow over minced lamb and rice

Cheese dumplings, sounds odd, but tastes delicious

Cheese dumplings, sounds odd, but tastes delicious

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I liked the whole fish in the spicy coconut-inflected curry sauce – as our friends noted: when there’s whole fish on the menu, get it. But I found the fried chicken, a popular dish, too sweet. I got the carmelization and appreciated the crispness of the coating, but too much sugar. And it tasted sugar-y to me … And while I liked the noodles with pork belly, I also found the dish a tad lacking in salt. The pork belly was soft and had a gelatinous crust (is that the word?) on it, very different from other Asian pork belly preparations. But even that was a little … not sweet, but perhaps not quite savory enough.

On the whole, a thumbs up. I can see why people have made a fuss over Maketto. Worth the traffic-wracked ride out.

On the other hand, dinner on Saturday at Granville Moore’s was disappointing. Granville Moore’s, of course, has been a fixture on H Street, back when there was nothing there other than GM and the original Taylor’s. The building itself has a great history and I personally like Belgian beers, so I was excited.

Unfortunately, we got off to a bad start. Our hostess showed us the table right behind her stand. Which was directly in front of the open door. I saw that there was a table for 4 right behind that one that was open. Can we have that one instead? Easy, right? Apparently not. Much discussion ensued. Her supervisor came over. They went back and forth. They told us they couldn’t move us to the empty table because there was a reservation there. Our response: okay, but we’re here first, so swap tables. We can’t. We have a system and have tables lined up for the next reservation. Got it, so swap those reservations as well. We can’t …. blah blah.

Whatever. So we sat at our table. The one right behind the hostess. Who stood in front of the open door. Where the July heat and humidity streamed – or steamed – right in. Bleh.

My mussels and frites were good, and so were my beers. But we never really got over the bad start. The staff’s explanation about why they couldn’t swap the tables made no sense. What made it worse was that when we got up to leave, that table was still empty. In fact, at one point, there were two empty 4-tops behind us, all out of the direct path of the door and outside air.

On our way out, T talked to the manager again. Somehow, after hearing a long explanation – so long I went back in to see if she was okay – it came down to this: the reservation was for a group of 10, so they needed the tables to be together. That’s why they couldn’t swap the two tables. If only he had just said that, maybe we would have felt better about the swelter. Or not.

Good thing our evening ended in fierce air conditioning at Smith Commons. Ah, I do love creature comforts. And good pours.

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