From the moment I noticed Dolan on Google maps, I knew I had to go there. I’ve had Uyghur food once before–in Arlington–and although it was somewhat lacking that time, the cuisine felt like it had potential. I love cultural mashups! Just like how eating Burmese food at Mandalay always feels like the greatest ever combination of Thai and Indian with a little je ne sais quoi thrown in, my thinking on Uyghur food was this: Afghan + Chinese = Delicious! How could it not be? Dolan claims to be “the best Uyghur food in DC” which, even before eating there, I suspected may have been like the way my grandma always referred to me as her “favorite granddaughter.” Her other six grandchildren are boys.
I invited my friend Amanda to tag along. She lived in Western China and generally knows her shit. About everything. She is also a spicy food enthusiast.
My husband and I arrived early, so we grabbed a drink at the bar. He had their house Old Fashioned, and I had a drink that included vodka and green tea. Their liquor prices were reasonable and the drinks were…about what you’d expect given the price. It got the job done, I guess.
Bonus for Dolan: their restaurant is adorable. Their fireplace and fake lamppost made me feel like I was simultaneously inside and outside in…Paris, maybe? It was very homey and cute.
So, back to the food. What happens when you have two modern, assertive women eating dinner with their accommodating spouses is that the menfolk don’t even need to crack the menu. I might feel slightly bad about steamrolling every single small-plates meal we ever eat, but what can I say? I have superior taste. You’re welcome, husbands. Amanda and I ordered korma chop, pumpkin manta, fried green beans, and the goshnan, which bills itself as “Uyghur pizza.” I crossed my fingers that it wasn’t actually just pizza and took the plunge.
Without further ado, here is our meal:
The green beans were oniony and well-cooked but I could have made this at home. I guess I was expecting the incredible Sichuan dry-rubbed green beans we get at Panda Gourmet, and this was just regular green beans. Similar to the alcohol, it did the job. By which I mean that it was green and it was edible. On the right of the photo is the korma chop, which had the semi-numbing spice of Sichuan peppercorns and really well-cooked lamb. This dish was the highlight of the meal for sure. Above those dishes you will notice a tiny bowl of rice. We didn’t need much rice, but it somehow seems more bizarre that they gave us such a small quantity. Why even bother at that point?
The pumpkin manta were alright. I don’t have major regrets about ordering them since they sounded interesting but they weren’t well-seasoned and were generally poorly-constructed for dumplings. They were larger than bite-size, begging to be cut in half, but all the filling fell out as soon as you cut into them as if to mock you. The whole idea was badly-conceived.
The goshnan looked great and tasted pretty good. It was the first thing that seemed more Afghan than Chinese. Actually, it seemed more like a shepherd’s pie than a pizza, and the pastry crust was soft and deliciously greasy. The meat was good and spiced well.
When we finished these four things, we all agreed that we were still slightly hungry, and, after not being hooked by anything on the dessert menu [side note: two nights without dessert? I don’t even know who I am anymore!], begrudgingly decided to order the lamb kabobs in a last-ditch effort to fill our bellies.
They were solid. The meat was, for the most part, very tender and flavorful, but the seasoning wasn’t particularly interesting. It was the perfect summation of this meal: fine, edible, and a gustatory snooze-fest. Come on, Uyghurs! Just because China tried to quash your culture doesn’t mean you have to suppress all the flavor in your food. I thought I was going to be transported on a magic carpet ride to a whole new world of flavor but I really just got some bland lamb.
Price: $25 per person, which at least seemed completely reasonable.
Bottom line: Dolan might be the best–or only–Uyghur food in DC. And maybe I’m not an expert on Uyghur food after eating it twice. But I feel like you could do better than this without trying very hard. Step 1: Pick up some actual delicious green beans from Panda Gourmet. Step 2: Grab some kabobs from Shamshirry. Step 3: Profit.