Wednesday, January 11, 2006

TenPenh and the Gin Rickshaw: Restaurant Week

Who knew that one of DC's fancier Asian-fusion places would serve their drinks with tiny plastic monkeys looped over the rim?

Ladies and gents, these are the kinds of marvelous discoveries one can make during Restaurant Week in Washington, DC. For the low, low price of $20.06 for lunch and $30.06 for dinner, fabulous three-course meals at 140 snazzy DC restaurants await. I'm making an exception to my usual recipe-heavy blog format to fill you in on what I'm eating out this week.

Our first hit was TenPenh. Since our dining companion was flying from London (ostensibly for work, but actually for Restaurant Week, I suspect), we guessed she might be bit late and so ordered diverting cocktails. The Gin Rickshaw was the best ("Minted Gin Martini with Ginger and Lime") but the Jade was excellent as well ("Malibu Coconut Rum, Swirl of Melon Liquor, Finished with Pineapple Juice"). Gary, our charming waiter, delivered the empty, garnished glasses to the table, then pulled a mini-cocktail shaker from each of the enormous pockets of his pan-Asian tunic/jacket and poured with a flourish. Adorable.

Once our food--and our Brit--arrived, I picked up my hammered Thai bronze flatware (the knife "duplicates the shape of a traditional Thai sword") and dug in. To start, I had the "Filipino Lumpia Style Pork and Shrimp Spring Rolls with a Trio of Dipping Sauces." It was a lot of food--three long thin spring rolls, nicely crisp and satisfyingly oily. The creamy, mildly spicy orange sauce was a standout; it tasted like the paste in a spicy tuna roll. The "Wok-Seared Spicy Calamari," with a few toasted cashews lurking beneath, was good as well.

Next came the "Tahitian Vanilla Scented Ahi Tuna Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, Tempura Endive, Yuzu Butter Sauce." The tuna was excellent, though not as vanilla-y as I'd hoped, but the tempura endive was brilliant, moist and vegetal on the inside, light and crisp on the outside. Again, lots of food. I can't imagine how many potatoes and horseradishes gave their lives for that mound of wasabi mashed potatoes. The Human Vacuum got escolar on a bed a squid ink risotto. He won for Best Entree Selection: The white fish was very moist, but the layers came apart nicely when we dug out forks in.

My dessert, Thai Coffee Panna Cotta, wobbled alarmingly when it arrived at the table, but delivered all the creamy sweetness of Thai iced coffee. The bitter chocolate cookie was a perfect foil for the mound of spiced, coffee-flavored cream.

Final assessment: Go to TenPenh, even on non-Restaurant Week occasions. The portions are well-calibrated, the flavor combinations are interesting without being irritatingly absorbed in the own precious uniqueness, the place feels fancy without being stuffy, and they have tiny plastic monkeys on their cocktails. What more could you want?

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