I've been in DC for a little over two weeks and I've been exploring some of the restaurants in my neighborhood.
Great Wall Szechuan, 1527 14th St NW (at Church St.)
Ezra really likes Great Wall Szechuan, but I was disappointed.
I ordered off the special numbingly hot menu, as directed. I ordered the mapo tofu without meat and the spicy cold noodle appetizer. The sheer amount of Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil they were willing to put in these dishes commanded my respect. Great Wall doesn't pander. Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy the food that much because the flavors were unbalanced. Good mapo tofu is supposed to have a certain amount of tang and a slight sweetness to offset the chili, but this tofu was just soft and white and greasy with a few wilted green onions floating on top. The sauce should coat the tofu. This bean curd was just sitting in the oil, quivering.
The tofu came with a brick-like carton of steamed rice.
I knew I wasn't going to like the second dish as soon as I saw that the noodles were industrial yellow. The noodles were slightly thinner than udon with a slight wave to them, as I expected they were pretty tasteless. They were dressed with ample bright red oil, Sichuan pepper, red pepper flakes, black vinegar, and very fresh beansprouts. There might have been soy in there too. There was some overwhelmingly salty ingredient, but I couldn't determine what, and so many chili flakes that the noodles were unappealingly gritty.
On the upside the "appetizer" portion of the noodles was entree-sized and the tofu portion was equally generous. So, it was enough for three or four meals for 15 bucks, and they delivered promptly.
I'd give this place another chance.
Oohhs and Ahhs Soul Food, 1005 U St NW (At 10th St. NW)
Not the cleanest restaurant in the world and the atmosphere is kind of dismal, but the food is delicious. Actually, Oohhs and Aahhs is more of a lunch counter or a takeout joint than a restaurant, though there is seating upstairs. They automatically pack the components of your meal into separate styro-foam containers. I had a really good boneless fried chicken breast served with two sides. I chose the baked macaroni and cheese. The noodles were soft and buttery with a mildly tangy curds of cheddar cheese. The pureed yams were bright orange, heavily spiced, and too sweet even for dessert. I couldn't eat them. Sixteen dollars is on the pricey side for that kind of fare, but the portions are generous enough to feed two adults and the individual containers make it convenient to take the food home to share.
The food was good, but the service was unfriendly and the guy screwed up my order and tried to tell me I hadn't ordered it properly. I probably wouldn't go back.
Marvin, 2007 14th St NW (At U St. NW)
I went for brunch at this Belgian/Soul Food restaurant and left feeling wistful and ripped off. According to the menu in the window, they were about eight dollars on the brunch menu. When I sat down, they showed me a different menu where the grits were about five dollars more expensive. I was already committed to this venture, so I chose to order them anyway.
I have to say, they were hands down the best shrimp and grits I've ever eaten, or probably ever will eat. There were about five small, sweet seared shrimp with their tails on arranged on top of a little mound of dense coarsely ground white cheese grits. That was it, though. No garnish, no sides, no juice, no coffee, no nothing. Maybe it's a New York thing, but I'm used to brunch being a package deal. I'm not a big eater, but I left Marvin feeling hungry.
If I could afford to, I would go back, but that's not happening unless I quit my job and become a lobbyist.
Dahlak, 1771 U St NW (Btwn Florida Ave & 17th St NW)
This Eritrean restaurant was a great find. I ordered the hamili dinish, which is a dry spinach and potato and carrot stew. It's served on a metal platter on top of big flat injera bread. Injera like a giant spongy blini. You tear off pieces of the bread to scoop up the veggies, and the delicious little side salad. The side salad was shredded romaine, fresh tomato cubes, red onions, and fresh jalepenos. The dressing tasted like bottled Italian, but for whatever reason, bottled Italian dressing goes amazingly well with jalepeno. All this, and a second tortilla-sized injera on the side for $7.85. I left with enough leftovers for at least one more meal.
I will definitely go back.