July 6, 2012

Sticky Rice

Location: 1224 H St NE (X2, X9 buses)
Cost: $15-$20
Sticky Rice on Urbanspoon

It's been 6 days since the record-breaking storm hit DC, and thousands of people are still without power.  I feel so bad for anyone (some of my coworkers among them) who still doesn't have power, because it was over 100 degrees today.  To beat the heat (and lack of electricity) over the weekend, my uncle and aunt stayed over at my apartment, so along with my parents, we had 5 people in a 1 bedroom place.  Just before everyone went their separate ways, we sat down for dinner together at Sticky Rice in the H Street District.

Sticky Rice is one of the many new restaurants that have popped up along H Street over the past year.  It's got a very Pan-Asian feel to it, and their menu reflects this, serving noodles, sandwiches, and sushi all in one place.  The place has a very hipster feel to it, also reflecting the culture of many of the shops and bars that sit next to it along H Street.

Right, let's get down to the food.  We weren't sure how much to order for the 5 of us - I'm honestly never sure how to to judge adequacy of portions when there's sushi involved - so we went for an appetizer to start.  My uncle ordered up their fiery hot Szechuan Sticky Wings.

It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but you get 7 large (but not jumbo) sized wings that are fried and then tossed with your choice of sauce - I should point out that they also serve 'em in Teriyaki or Sweet & Sour - and topped with sesame seeds and cut up scallions.  The wings were very well-cooked, fried to have a crispy skin but still very juicy in the middle.  I liked the way the Szechuan-style sauce, which had a hint of sweetness to it, seasoned the wings, but it didn't give me as much of a kick as I was expecting.  Chock it up to Westernization, but if they amped up the spice and served them with blue cheese, I would have been much more impressed.

Next up, based on the recommendation of our server, we ordered the Shrimp Coconut on Sticky Rice bowl.  It's topped with cucumbers, onions, carrots, crushed peanuts, & shaved coconut, and mixed with a coconut pepper curry that's very Thai-esque.  Kudos to the server, because I thought this was the best dish of our meal.  The shrimp were very tender, and the coconut curry sauce complemented it really nicely.  It was thick, full-bodied, and like the server said, mixed very well with the rice so that you've got something tasty left at the bottom of the bowl, after you've eaten everything else.

The pile of veggies on top was reminiscent of bibimbap, a touch that I thought was pretty cool cause it keeps the veggies nice and crisp until the moment you eat them.

Since the Shrimp Coconut was such a hit, we decided to see if lightning could strike twice and ordered the Mongolian Beef bowl with udon noodles.  It was a decidedly Chinese-style dish, with liberal use of red chili sauce, bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots, water chestnuts, and snow peas...or "Asian Style Vegetables" if you've ever walked down the frozen veggie aisle at Safeway.

Unfortunately, lightning doesn't strike twice (unless you're this guy).  This was by far the worse dish of the night; the beef was overcooked and dry, the sauce too watery, and that liberal use of the red chili sauce gave everything a sour taste that lingered long after finishing each bite.  The noodles were nicely done and had good texture (if you do get this dish, opt for the udon) but weren't able to compensate for the soggy vegetables lying in a pool of brown, watery sauce.

Last but not least, we ordered 3 sushi rolls.  I won't go over the tuna and unakyu maki (left and center above) other than to say that the fish tasted pretty fresh and the rice was well-seasoned.  The one unique roll we got was the Chili Roll, which consisted of tuna, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno, and grilled pineapple with tobiko and tempura flakes on top.  If you do order sushi, try their monster rolls (the Chili is one of 5 options) because they're bigger, or try the tempura rolls if you've never had a deep fried sushi roll before.

The Chili roll didn't disappoint.  That could have been because I had no expectations going in, but objectively, it was a good tasting roll of sushi.  Reading the list of ingredients, I was looking forward to an interesting combination of spicy (jalapeno) and sweet (pineapple) with the taste of fresh fish and crunchy tempura flakes, but that just didn't materialize.  In fact, it wasn't until I started writing this paragraph that I realized there was grilled pineapple in the roll.  Still, the tuna was fresh, the rice warm, and overall, it was a solid sushi roll.

Sticky Rice tries hard to class up their offerings, but beneath the hip architecture and clever names lies a Pan-Asian restaurant: a jack of all trades but master of none.  Which isn't to say that's a totally bad thing; despite not being overwhelmed by the food, I did find myself enjoying the ability to move freely back and forth from noodles to curry to sushi on a whim.  The sharp transitions even made the food taste a little different, and in a good way.  More novel, I guess.  Plus, you may be a sucker for Pan-Asian flavor; lord knows authentic is not synonymous with delicious.

For staying cool in the middle of the heatwave and giving my family a fun, if Westernized Asian place to eat, Sticky Rice earns 3 Cherries.