Washington D.C., and the surrounding suburbs have quickly become one of the nation’s most exciting culinary destinations.
According to the Washington Metropolitan Restaurant Association, there are approximately 1,900 dining options to choose from within the greater metro area. The choices are plentiful, and these restaurants offer their patrons dishes that are hard to find anywhere else.
The variety of cuisines available in the District is a representation of the international and diverse population that lives and works in Washington. With over 187 foreign embassies in D.C., each with large diplomatic staffs, restaurant patrons don’t have to travel far for an authentic meal.
Washington’s culinary scene attracts celebrity chefs as well as authentic, home-style cooks from all over the globe who are looking to open restaurants.
Celebrity chefs including Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck and Spanish chef Jose Andres have traveled to the metro area to open up restaurants featuring their unique cooking styles.
With the bevy of cultures represented in D.C.’s culinary landscape, diners should not expect to see average dishes gracing their menus.
Andres owns and operates six restaurants in the area. All six locations have distinct menus and flavors, but it is his downtown restaurant, Oyamel, that piqued the interest of the American Observer.
By David Schultz
By far, the worst of the dishes sampled here. It was cooked in a relatively bland sauce, (I say “relatively” because all the other dishes were spiced to within an inch of their lives) but the flavor was the least of its problems. The main problem with this dish was the fact that the tiny tongues came served with the bones still in them. Did you know that duck tongues have bones? I sure didn’t. So imagine my surprise when I bit into one. Perhaps if it had said on the menu “Duck Tongue: Bone-In,” I would have been less disturbed. But it didn’t. I ate no more than four or five tongues and that was probably three or four too many.
Livers & kidneys
While this wasn’t the most unpalatable thing I ate for this article, it was the most psychologically disturbing. Joe’s Noodle House serves its liver and kidney dish — the livers and kidneys from what animal? I didn’t ask — in a fiery soy chili sauce. This gives it a strong flavor, though that flavor wasn’t strong enough to make me forget the metallic, bloody texture of the internal organ I was chewing on. I suppose this might appeal to a diner with psychopathic tendencies — or a diner with a severe iron deficiency — but I was not amused.
Have you ever been eating duck and thought to yourself, “I love this duck skin, and these duck bones are great, but I really hate duck meat”? If so, then may I recommend this dish. Joe’s Noodle House serves its plate of duck feet cold as an appetizer. It’s smothered in a spicy mixture of chilies, shallots and chili oil. If you can get past the whole webbed-feet aspect of the dish, it actually wasn’t that bad – chewy, fatty, spicy and overall OK.
This was my favorite among the six dishes I tried. By a long shot. There wasn’t even a close second. The intestines in this dish were sliced thin and barbecued until crispy. They were then mixed with chopped chilies and green onions – very spicy. The little pieces of meat in the dish were crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside, more or less what I would have expected from any other grilled meat dish. In fact, if I could somehow erase the knowledge that these pieces of meat were extracted from the lower GI of a swine, I’d probably order it again sometime.
Oyamel is known for serving, among other things, grasshopper tacos. The inexpensive protein source is common fare in the southern parts of Mexico, according to Oyamel General Manager Jessica Sackler. “They are a must-have for an adventurous eater! We feel that they help your agility the next day.”
While the Observer’s own David Schultz didn’t report being able to leap between tall buildings, he did note that the tacos were, “very salty.” According to Sackler, this is due to the grasshoppers naturally high sodium content.
“We actually don’t add any salt to the dish,” she noted.
If grasshoppers are upscale fare, then where does pork intestine fall on the food spectrum? In short, perfectly chewy intestine falls directly into the category of home-style Szechuan cooking in Rockville, Maryland.
Just outside the District, in an unsuspecting strip mall, diners in search of adventure and traditional Chinese cooking will find Joe’s Noodle House.
Joe’s Noodle House specializes in authentic Szechuan-style Chinese cuisine, which is difficult to find outside of its southwest China province of origin. Known for its hot and spicy dishes, Szechuan style has an intense heat that is difficult to replicate.
Nestled among the more common Chinese fare like kung pao chicken, lie some dishes that one might not expect to see on the menu of a restaurant located in a strip mall: jelly fish salad and duck tongue.
The American Observer set out to try some of Joe’s most adventurous dishes. Four courses later, we had a deeper appreciation for the cuisine of the spicy southwestern province.
Adventurous eater David Schultz once again volunteered for the job. He started his gastronomical journey through China with duck tongue served with basil. The dish is also known as A23 on the menu if your taste buds are interested.
Served cold with a very light sauce, the duck tongue came with a surprising twist for Schultz. “It seems like there is a bone in here,” he noted after popping the first duck tongue into his mouth whole.
After practicing with his subsequent bites, he eventually came up with a strategy, “you kind of have to eat above the bone,” noted Schultz as he picked up the tongue and ate it like a tiny barbecue rib.
Once the first dish arrived, the next three came out quickly and were thrown onto the table by whichever waiter was close by. The restaurant was packed on a Saturday night and the service was friendly, but quick.
Up next was another appetizer, also from the same animal: duck feet served with red hot sauce (A02). While the second dish provided less logistical difficulties than the first, the spicy sauce left Schultz reaching for a tissue.
Following the duck feet, Schultz dug into the two main courses, which only got spicier as the meal progressed.
The dry sautéed spicy pork intestine won the distinction of being the tastiest, according to Schultz. Despite its less-than-familiar texture, “it’s crispy on the outside, but chewy on the inside,” he said between bites of entrail.
All four of the protein-based dishes that Schultz sampled were foreign to his palate, but judging by the line that literally wound its way outside of the restaurant, this type of cuisine is not out of the ordinary for many Rockville residents.