Wednesday, May 15, 2013


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Please excuse the Taylor Swift fans...the concert had just let out.
On Saturday night, I decided to check out the new restaurant, NoPa, with my best friend, Kaitlyn.  NoPa, which stands for North of Pennsylvania Avenue, is the newest dining venue offered by Askok Bajaj - the restaurateur who brought us the famed Rasika and The Bombay Club.  After experiencing Rasika for the first time on New Years Eve, I must say that my expectations for NoPa were extremely high.  I did not expect this place to disappoint in any way.

I'll start out by saying that the design elements in this space are spectacular. NoPa took over the former Zola Wine & Kitchen and made it its own unique restaurant.  Each dining room has its own feel, and it reminded me of chic images fresh off the pages of Architectural Digest.

We sat in the front dining room next to a huge window.  I love that the table and chairs were sort of fancy-comfortable.  They weren't the typical restuarnt feel - more like lounge seating.  They were low-sitting leather arm chairs.  Super unique and appreciated in my book.  As soon as we sat down, I looked up and realized that I was having a foodie celeb sighting!  Askok Bajaj was standing at a table about 20 feet from us.  I had to snap a photo!

Starting off, I ordered a cocktail featuring vodka and strawberries (the exact name eludes me and it is not on NoPa's online menu).  It came with fresh strawberry purée, strawberries and basil.  It was cool, refreshing and delicious.  It also wasn't shy on the vodka, which is never a bad thing.  Kaitlyn had a simple vodka martini.  She loved that it was served with a moderate amount of ice - an unusual occurrence at high end restaurants looking to sell as many drinks as possible.

Our first course was a Hamachi Tartare with a Sweet Pea Puree and Ginger Vinaigrette.  The fish was so soft and fresh - it almost melted in your mouth.  The puree was a perfect compliment and added the right amount of spice and acidity.  Although there was not a lot of textural variation in this dish, it worked flawlessly.  I could have eaten 10 of them.

Next up, we decided to try the Smoked Salmon Croquettes with an aioli sauce and the Twice Fried Chicken with a spicy tomato sauce.  After living in Spain for 6 months, I am rarely blown away by any croquettes in the States.  I'm not sure what the difficulty is in mashing up some ingredients into a ball and deep frying them, but not many places in the States impress with their croquettes.  Sadly, NoPa was no different.  Truthfully, I barely tasted the smoked salmon.  Kailtyn and I discussed ways to improve this croquette--it would have been much more unique to have salmon in the center surrounded by a cream cheese filling and then deep frying the croquette.  Hopefully NoPa will improve this uninspiring dish.  The twice fried chicken, on the other hand, was delicious.  It was perfectly crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside.  The accompanying sauce was like a fancy version of ketchup.  Of course we asked for seconds on the sauce.  I would definitely order this again.

For our third course, we shared the Parisienne Gnocchi with Glazed Mushrooms, Sylvetta and Parmesan.  If you are like me you are saying, what the heck is Parisienne gnocchi?  Truthfully, until writing this post, I was not aware of its existence.  I knew that the gnocchi tasted different, but only when I did a quick Google search did I come across the true definition of Parisienne gnocchi.  In fact, this dish does not incorporate potatoes at all, as traditional gnocchi does.  Food and Wine tells me that this dish doesn't even need a light hand to make them!  This is probably the best news I've gotten all day.  Expect a post in the near future featuring these tasty gems.  Parisienne gnocchi literally taste like you are eating delicately flavored puffs of air that melt in your mouth.  The accompanying mushrooms seemed as if they were just plucked out of the ground, seasoned, and tossed on the plate--super fresh.  I didn't particularly care for the sylvetta, which is a green similar to arugula.  To me, it added a bitter, unsatisfying taste to the dish and did not help to vary the texture as I so wished it would have.  I chose to leave that off my fork.  That said, I assume this dish will remain a constant favorite at NoPa.

Last, we ordered the Mussels in a Mushroom Broth with Fresh Chiles.  I must say, if I am anything, it is nothing short of a mussel connoisseur (kidding, mostly).  I have tried them at pretty much any spot in DC that has them on the menu from St. Arnold's, to Hank's Oyster Bar, Masa14 to Granville Moore's (Hank's wins hands down).  My first impression is always the serving dish.  I must be able to access the broth easily.  This is not that hard to accomplish, yet countless restaurants cannot figure it out.  NoPa's serving dish was about halfway there.  I had to do some awkward digging, but I made it to the broth somehow.  The second thing I noticed was that these mussels were served room temperature, at best.  Kaitlyn did not seem to mind the lukewarm temperature, but I found it to be detrimental.  The broth was generally mediocre; there is nothing worse than a bland broth.  The quality of the mussels was good, however, so I managed to get my share of the plate down.

Overall, I think NoPa did not entirely meet my high expectations.  The service was decent (our waitress was clearly nervous), while the ambiance was stellar.  Some dishes sang in perfect foodie harmony, but others definitely missed the mark.  Hopefully Askok will stick around NoPa on a regular basis and make sure his slightly off-tune restaurant gets to the fine-tuned spot I know it can be.

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