Thursday, August 16, 2012

Restaurant Review: Sticky Rice, DC

I sometimes feel that deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial are more of a curse then a blessing. They suck me in to spending much more than I originally would have if my naive, deal-saving magnet didn’t catch the deal in the first place. But without those awesome deals, I wouldn’t be “forced” to enjoy some great eats at a new restaurant; view a local brewery as a work of art; have a reason to spend time with family and friends; or take the step needed to do something daring and exciting. Yes, they break my pockets considerably, but without them, my life wouldn’t be as fun or as interesting. I love them and yet, I hate them. Take last weekend for example.

Several months ago, the hubster and I went on a week-long deal-buying binge. Restaurants, gardening supplies, brewery tours…we were using them every weekend. But then the hoopla died down and well some of them just sat there. I would verbally remind us that we had deals that had to be used before September, but we would brush the thought to the side and move on. Now it’s mid August and we still have 4 deals left! So this weekend, with nothing scheduled to do (SHOCK! For the first time in the last three months!) we decided to hit up DC; our desired, yet unrealistically possible, hometown. We debated – Amsterdam Falafels? Busboys and Poets? Oh yeah we have a deal to Sticky Rice – a sushi place with a plethora of vegan options! I called my favorite vegan and foodie buddy. Ms. Kerry and her lovely BF and off we went!

Upon arriving, our perception of Sticky Rice was an uppity, classy, Asian-bistro decked out with spotless modern furniture and waiters/waitresses dressed in slacks and least that’s the feel we got from the website. We questioned the ability to bring a child and feared not making a reservation would result in not getting in. But as we walked down H-Street, we begin to question one, if we were in the right place and two, what type of restaurant this really was. Looking up I saw the sign painted on the front of an old, two-level townhome, realized we had surprisingly arrived and I told myself, I couldn’t judge the restaurant by its “cover”, so we walked in, ignoring the pink sign on the front of the door. Walking in, I saw two things: straight ahead, a stairs leading to an upper part of the restaurant and to my right, a small, dark, quiet, hazy bar area already half filled with half-happy bar goers. Feeling a bit anxious and worried about what I just stepped into, I stood there with my crew expecting someone to greet us and point us in the right direction. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, it took me a 30-second stare down with the bartender to get him to point and tell me go upstairs. 

Walking up an extremely steep staircase, we entered into yet another small area, previously living room no doubt, all red and black, simply furnished with a few tables and booths against the windows and walls. Now I know why reservations are needed! This place could easily get packed on any given night. My perception of a modern Asian-bistro were crushed no doubt, but that didn’t stop us from moving forward. I was actually quite relieved of the more comfortable, homey setting.  We were seated by a kind host NOT wearing slacks of course, and told that, as we may have noticed on the pink sign, it was currently sushi only, for all other dishes would not be available til 5pm. It was 4pm. Crap! We debated but decided to stay and hey, grab a drink! And so we did! 

Since sushi was available, a few ordered some sushi and appetizers to hold them over. Unfortunately, I am OCD and have to have my food come out in order and worse, will not eat a meal until all of it is out. So instead I ordered a drink  -  a Jalapeno Margarita at that, while Ms. Kerry ordered a Saketini.  We both agreed the Jalapeno Margarita was an amazing drink! It was well blended; not too sweet; perfectly salted and very SPICY with an enjoyable after burn. For those who like spicy hot eats and drinks, this cocktail is for you!  As a hold over Ms. K ordered  the Santa Fe a Vegetarian Specialty made with tempura sweet potato with agave jalapeno and sesame seeds. She so kindly shared one with me and I loved the sweet and savory flavor with the crunchy texture. It was different, but in a great way. 

After an order of a Lycheetini - minus the sweet syrup, which was again, perfectly blended and sweetened with lychee juice, aromatic and beautifully garnished with a simply lychee at the bottom of our glass, which my lychee-loving daughter begged for the entire time I sipped my cocktail – it was almost 5 pm and time to order our meal.

For an appetizer, Ms. K and I shared Tofu Lettuce Wraps made with fried tofu stir fried with shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts and mixed vegetables, topped with tempura crunchies. As a lettuce wrap addict, I have had my share of lettuce wraps and I have to admit, these were some of the best ones I have ever had! Fresh and oh so flavorful! There’s just something about enjoying a meal that is both hot and cold, raw and cooked, crunchy and soft…a meal that sends the senses in all different directions. Loved it!

For dinner, I ordered two vegetarian specialties; Garden Balls which were inari pockets stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, red peppers, cilantro and spicy rice, tempura fried and drizzled with an “eel” sauce and the Hot Hippy: sushi made with spicy marinated tofu with scallions, peanuts, cukes and carrots. Ms. K ordered the Mock Chicken Szechuan noodle bowl. Of course, we sampled each other’s meals and we were very satisfied with all three.

The Garden Balls were crunchy and sweet. In my opinion, the “eel” sauce was a little too much; sweet and strong in flavor. Not a “double buy” (as you get to know me, you will learn I rarely eat the same thing twice unless it’s really, really good), but overall still good. My favorite part was the crunch!

The Hot Hippy Sushi, which I didn’t find as spicy as I desired, was good, but again, not great. It was like any other sushi – filling and perfect to dip in a sauce mixture of soy sauce and wasabi and topped with pickled ginger and now, siracha. I guess I have very high standards after visiting California Roll Cafe in Morehead City, NC where each uniquely made sushi has its own dipping sauce. Everything tastes the same with soy sauce and wasabi.

Ms. K’s Mock Chicken Szechuan Noodle Bowl was spicy and the mock fried chicken was pretty darn good! Realistic in taste and texture and let’s be honest - everything tastes even better when fried. The ratio of rice noodles to “meat” and veggies was WAY off, making it just a bowl of lonely noodles once the toppings were easily devoured. Less noodles and more “chicken”, veggies and sauce would have been preferred. Again good, but not great.

Dessert was sitting in the car – the best vegan cupcakes we have ever tasted so far made by Sweetz Bakery. Our favorite flavor is the chocolate with white frosting and coconut. My husband and daughter, both not very big cake fans, are addicted to the chocolate cake. They both dislike the icing which I have absolutely no objections too…me eat it!? Oh please yes! Now these, I think Ms. K would agree, we crave...A LOT!

Overall a great visit, minus the long wait. I would definitely go back again if asked and order another Jalapeno Margarita and Vegan Lettuce Wraps, but it’s not a restaurant I crave to return to. Plus, it’s super easy to break the bank there! Each roll runs between 5-8 dollars each and at 6 pieces each, a very hungry person could easily eat at least 3 rolls! A great experience nonetheless, with great always!

- Beth 

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