– A Review
by: James Whitaker
Situated under the Galactic Empiresque brown J. Edgar Hoover building on E St. NW, Asia Nine serves up a contemporary mix of Far East and Southeast Asian-inspired dishes. From Japanese sushi to Thai’s Gway Tiew to Korean Sizzling Beef to Chinese Lo Mein, every Asian food enthusiast could find something on the menu that would peak their interest.
To be honest, I’ve been underwhelmed by Asia Nine in the past. I felt the sushi I’ve had was nothing more than adequate. However, after I had the opportunity to sample some of their other staple cuisine earlier this week along with some of the Italian-inspired dishes incorporated into their July menu for DC’s La Dolce DC, a city-wide celebration of all things Italian, I must say they offer several offerings that are worth the stop-in before catching a movie at the E St Cinema down the road.
We began with a tasting of “Ice Dome” Junmai Ginjo Sake. A very refreshing moderately priced sake that, as advertised, is good for clearing the palate. Asia Nine has an extensive sake selection that fits everyone’s taste buds and budget. From the “just turned 22 year old” intern looking to smash some sake bombs to the sophisticated lawyer looking to score culture points on his blind date, Asia Nine has a choice for you. The rest of their bar is passable with some East Asian beers like Korea’s OB Lager and CASS, but nothing too inventive.
The first course was a sampling of four appetizers – Asian Stuffed Mushrooms, Asian Chicken Wings, Takoyaki, a Japanese octopus dumpling, and the La Dolce-prompted Asian Shrimp Ravioli in a spicy pesto. The sesame sake crème in this dish was rich and buttery with a nice roasted finish from the pine nuts. The ravioli was by far the best dish of the four with the others lacking in any particular discernible goodness or quality. I was especially disappointed in the Asian Chicken Wing that was touted by our host. It, unfortunately, had the taste equivalent of the Chicken McNugget with sweet n’ sour sauce that I had last night after a weeknight escapade.
The main course featured a nice assortment of sushi and proteins that were more hit than miss. The Sushi specialties included a surf & turf roll, a sear & sear salmon roll, and an Obama roll that is apparently named because it’s “clean, lean, and green”. The surf & turf made up of a grilled scallop wrapped in seared steak and steak sauce finished nicely and the salmon roll had a nice smoky flavor with a light crunch from the sesame seeds. The salmon, however, was a too soft for my personal preference. The Obama roll, a popular choice among DCers, features lobster meat, radish sprout, and a crispy basil leaf – a very nice and appetizing combination. Unfortunately though, the sesame seed overpowered the entire dish.
The featured proteins were a lamb chop imported from New Zealand, a hoisin BBQ short rib, and a grilled marinated salmon. The chop was tough and not what I would recommend, but the short rib and salmon were perfect. The short rib is braised nicely to lock-in the 5-spice, a mixture of herbs that include cumin and cinnamon, and the result is a chunk that is succulent and fork-tender. The salmon was also cooked to perfection with a flaky skin and firm body – a nice change from the overly soft salmon of the sear roll. It’s topped over sticky sushi rice and teriyaki glaze and pickled ginger that really brought a nice zing that complimented the taste of the fish.
Dessert, Thai tiramisu and a mango and stick rice nigiri, was one of the best and worst things I've ever had. To put it plainly, avoid the nigri. But, get two, if not three, tiramisus. Asia Nine’s version of tiramisu features a classic trifle of soaked lady fingers, but their spin of soaking them in Thai Coffee was a revelation. It really gave this otherwise common dessert a very distinct upgrade. For those that know me, I’m not a fan of dessert. But the Thai tiramisu at Asia Nine throws that distinction to the street.
All and all, the touristy-hip Asia Nine with its dark walls accented by bright modern art and architecture is a very good restaurant if you get the right item. A truly great restaurant maintains quality in all its dishes, but with the number of options Asia Nine has, that may be unachievable. Go to Asia Nine if you’re in the neighborhood and appreciate the freedom of choice. At Asia Nine, you can tour the Orient before getting back to your Duck Tour of DC.
James Whitaker is a Dupont-living, half-Asian policy wonk from Missouri, Texas, and DC who loves bourbon, BBQ, and being critical of everything. He is also apparently a fan of comma-filled run-on sentences.