Momo Yakitori

“Yay!” I exclaimed one day about two weeks ago. “There’s a new Japanese restaurant open next to Nido!” Well, it turns out that that new restaurant IS Nido. So I was both depressed about the loss of a place that served delicious octopus and excited about the opening of a new place to try. Spring and rebirth and all that. I’m trying to be zen about this, okay?!

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Momo Yakitori didn’t change anything on the exterior or the interior, which is okay because it’s adorable and full of floral Spanish tile. Well, to be fair, they did change one very important thing on the interior, but I’ll get to that later.

They don’t have a whole lot of cocktails or beers (and what beers they do offer are all obscure Japanese imports, and therefore overpriced), so my husband went with the Fossi merlot (which cost $8 and he loved. Like I said, we have very low standards when it comes to wine) and I checked out their special cocktail. They have a good selection of sake and shochu, and my wonderful cocktail had plum shochu with grapefruit and prosecco. It was tart, fruity, and super refreshing.

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The ordering is done a la carte like sushi, and with little explanation. After probing our server, we ended up ordering the “Lucky 7”–basically seven random skewers, just so we could get a variety. We also had the cucumber salad, the pumpkin, and the maitake mushrooms.

Round 1: cucumbers. Tart, crunchy, pickled, refreshing, and slightly spicy. This was a good size starter for two people. After we finished, they showed up with a big bowl of complementary cabbage salad as a palate cleanser, which again was plain but nicely vinegary and crisp.

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Round 2: Vegetables. These didn’t actually come next, but I want the meat to be the piece de resistance. They were small, but they were also, like, $3 each (as compared with last night’s overpriced adventure at Chloe in which vegetables cost $16 each). The maitake was great. In the last couple of years, this has become my favorite mushroom, hands down. It was grilled to perfection, served in a thin, soy-based sauce. The pumpkin was tender but pretty plain.

Round 2.5: Chicken. I apologize that I can’t fully explain each of these as there were both way too many things as well as it being chef’s choice, which means that I just don’t even know what I put in my mouth.

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From front to back: pearl onions, thighs with shio sauce, spicy chicken meatballs, something else, duck hearts, another chicken thing, and chicken breast with shisito pepper sauce. Everything was good. I liked the pepper sauce best, as well as the chicken meatballs. Have you ever had even a decent chicken meatball? I didn’t think so. This one was a little spicy, but it had a great texture. My husband liked the unknown skewer second from the back. Like the others, it was lightly sauced. It’s nice to eat chicken that’s not cooked to death (I’m as guilty as anyone of doing this). A quick note about the duck hearts: they were heart-y in texture but lacked that nasty iron flavor. It’s not a thing I would go out of my way to eat again, but I ain’t mad.

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When it was time to finish up, they recommended their dessert option: a marshmallow skewer with pumpkin sauce. We also ordered a shot of the our server’s favorite shochu. I can’t even explain how good this marshmallow was. The pumpkin puree was the right level of sweet and the marshmallow was crisp and caramelized, and a good size for sharing. The shochu was a nice touch too.

So, I promised that the interior had changed in a notable way, so here it is: Momo made a solid Japanese-style upgrade to their bathroom:

…a fully electric Japanese bidet! Now, I am a member of the cult of the bidet, but this place just took it to a new level. Firstly, the toilet seat was heated. This was a pleasant surprise. Secondly, my home bidet is so high-pressure and SO COLD. This bidet was automatic and warmed, and included a blow-dry option. The whole experience at Momo Yakitori was fabulous, but this bathroom was just the icing on the cake. Do yourself a favor and use this bathroom.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: RIP Nido, welcome Momo! I’ll be back here, for the food, the service, and the great pacing of the meal.

BOTTOM line: Use the bathroom.

Haikan

Could there have been a better night for ramen? I think not. There was a sprinkle of snow on the ground and a steady cool breeze blew throughout the city. Good thing I made these reservations two weeks ago, just in anticipation of winter weather! I’m sure everyone else had the same idea as we did. Oh, you guys want soup now? Well, too bad! My name’s already on the list!

Haikan exists in the same new, upscale area a block down from 930 Club that Hazel does. In fact, I first noticed it on google maps during the same perusing session in which I first found Hazel. And, lucky for me, this is within walking distance of my house.

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The restaurant is well-lit and semi-traditional inside with plain plywood benches and bar seating from which patrons can watch the chefs do their thang. It’s clean and minimalist.

Thankfully, their menu is also clean and minimalist. No confusion about the size of the dishes here! They point to ramen on one side (in two sizes and both at reasonable prices!) and small plates/apps on the other side. I ordered their seasonal house Old Fashioned and my husband got a Sapporo because when in Japan… And also they didn’t have any beer that looked much better. My Old Fashioned claimed to include fig (admittedly this was like…80% of the reason I ordered it), but I didn’t get it. Dat star anise though. We had a hard time deciding on an appetizer but we eventually also ordered the daily special pork belly and watermelon.

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The dominant flavor was sriracha, which was delicious even if it felt slightly lazy. I mean, I can slather my own food with hot sauce, thank you! But the pork belly was crispy outside, tender inside, and the watermelon made an interesting and unexpectedly good pairing, cutting the fat and the spice with juicy, sweet goodness. It was a good sharing size too.

For the ramen, we both chose the small size, hoping to minimize the chances of sloshy-belly on our walk home. We also tried to order things as different as we could. I got the spicy shoyu broth and added woodear mushrooms and the nitamago egg. The hubs got the lighter shio broth with just a nitamago. He wanted to get the “spice bomb” that Haikan offers, but opted against it so that we could taste a wide difference between the two soups.

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Service was fast and the small bowl was definitely the right size. No oogly-boogly feeling for us! It’s nice that Haikan offers this. On the other hand, we were both a little disappointed by the small amount of pork in our bowls; just a single thin strip of pork shoulder and some sad crumbs of ground meat as far as we could tell. Compared with Toki Underground or Daikaya whose soups are packed full of shredded meat, this felt sparse. The shio broth was light, slightly fishy, and very gingery. The shoyu broth was richer and had a light spice. I’m glad I got the mushrooms too because they didn’t skimp on these and they added a nice texture. The noodles were abundant and cooked to a perfect al dente. The seasoned egg was soooooo good. Why can’t I make eggs like this? Why can’t I ever even peel my soft-boiled eggs correctly? At any rate, here you get the whole egg, gooey jelly middle and all.

Best of all, we left feeling un-sloshy and without a huge dent in the wallet.

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: A variety of small plates and different ramen sizes, as well as the ability to make reservations, make Haikan a winner over other local ramen joints. I think Daikaya is better, I think Toki is more interesting, but at least at Haikan I don’t have to wait for hours in the cold, sadly spying on the people lucky enough to be enjoying their hot soup, like the little match girl. I will happily return here.

The Permanent List

Since I’ll spend all future posts reviewing future restaurants, I wanted to take one post to look at the past and talk about the places I never say no to (and the places I never say yes to). So without further ado, here is the permanent positive list:

  • Boundary Stone: OK, so I am a regular here. It’s my neighborhood place. It’s where I go when I want to go where everybody knows my name. But the food is always on-point and the whiskey list is only topped by a few other places (ahem, Jack Rose). They deserve an A- in food, A in whiskey, A+ in proximity to my home.
  • Mandalay: While not technically in DC, my husband and I stumbled on this place by accident a few years ago and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I take all out of town guests here for the spiciest food they’ve ever had. Special props go to their Nan Jhi Thoke, their signature Burmese dish. It is worth the drive/metro to Silver Spring for this place. Mandalay earns an A in burning your mouth off.
  • Panda Gourmet: Yes, the sketchy-looking place next to the Day’s Inn on New York Avenue. This is the only places to get authentic, or really even good, Chinese food in DC. Come here with a bunch of friends so that you can try a little of everything–the menu is extensive. A-.
  • Daikaya: Do you like ramen? Do you like Backstreet Boys sing-alongs? Then this is the place for you.
  • Steel Plate: The service is slow, but I like to think of it as European. Enjoy the food, enjoy the company, and ask for the check when you’re ready. Their rabbit poutine is oustanding.
  • Cafe Berlin: Great service, authentic food from a real German chef, and ridiculous portions.
  • El Centro DF: I first came here not too long ago, begrudgingly, and expecting it to be overpriced faux-Mexican food prepared and served by gringos. I was pleasantly surprised by how it defied every assumption I had made about it. Mezcal flights are a big draw too. A for authenticity.
  • Komi: This place is in a different league than the others previously listed, but I had the greatest meal of my life here several years ago and I’ve been chasing that high ever since (not to be found at any other place). A+!
  • Iron Gate: The food is always incredible and the atmosphere can’t be beat. We had a particularly great time here during a Christmas Eve prix fixe meal. Solid A. Never had a bad dish here.
  • The Sovereign: This is a bit of a lie because the last time I was here, the service was incredibly negligent considering that there were only two tables seated in the entire restaurant, but I’ve always been blown away by the food and the beer list. Definite A- for food, potential B in service but will give them another chance.

And now, the permanent B-list (“B” stands for “Banned”):

  • Big Board: This was the first place to be permanently banned in my household. How can a place that cooks only burgers not figure out how to cook a burger? The variable beer pricing is also gimmicky, and the beer is never actually cheap, it just wavers between kind of expensive and really expensive. C for food, D for stupid gimmick.
  • The Pub and the People: I don’t get the hype. Perhaps this place isn’t so bad, but with the crowd they constantly attract, it should be better. B for food, B- for service.
  • Sally’s Middle Name: This place is the Zooey Deschanel of restaurants; all quirky style, no substance. All of their food tasted like it was made my someone who skipped Seasoning 101 in culinary school. Why did they waste perfectly good ingredients on something that wasn’t salted?
  • The Brixton: I’ve never actually eaten here and I never will. One night, while here with my friends, I ordered an Old Fashioned from the bar. The bartender told me that they couldn’t make me an Old Fashioned because it was “too busy.” What. It has 4 ingredients (if you count ICE) and you don’t even have to shake it. Also, YOU ARE A BAR. Brixton earns an F in serving alcohol, the thing that is literally their entire job.
  • Minibar: Controversial, yes. I’m a Jose Andres fangirl, but this place charges $1000 for a weird (and, at times, uncomfortable) experience, not for good eats. It’s interesting, I don’t regret it, but never again. A for effort (?), C in cost-benefit analysis.