Once again we found ourselves on the Green Line, rolling along due north to Georgia Ave. in search of something delicious.
It was only a few months previous that we had our noses trained on pseudo-Japanese stalwart Himitsu, but what a difference those months made. Himitsu is closed now, as chef Kevin Tien focused his attention and skills opening Emilie’s in Eastern Market. No, this night our noses led us a handful of blocks south, to Queen’s English, where chef Henji Cheung and his general manager/beverage director/prep cook/wife Sarah Thompson run what is surely one of the best new restaurants in the city.
First, the restaurant is gorgeous. For starters, from the entryway partition to the banquettes, the woodwork is exquisite. But what really catches your eye is the Chinoiserie wallpaper that nearly wraps the room. It’s a striking bit of design that, when the lights are turned low for dinner service (hence the quality of the pictures to follow), reflects what little light is offered, bathing the room in a soft, red-gold glow. It’s a romantic setting for an essential date-night spot.
To the food: Chef Cheung grew up in the New Territories area of Hong Kong, a life experience he translates here into his 15-item menu comprised of small, shareable plates you’ll find yourself excited to eat. I’m feeling a bit of recency bias after my meal last night (a future diary entry) but I’m so tired of the small plate-pasta-pricey main item no one orders menu that has become the default in DC. Say it with me: No more pork ragu! (Louder from those in the back!)
There’s no such concern here. Items are different, well priced, and similarly sized – at least in our experience. We went almost entirely vegetarian in our order without fully realizing it, no small thing for two carnivores, but eaters could easily find their way into a meat-centric meal. Next time, drunken duck leg, next time.
Queen’s English takes presentation seriously. Plates are colorful, nostalgic, and aesthetically pleasing – cucumber are fanned out like the petals of a lotus; daikon fritters are topped with a ribbon of creamy mayo.
Looks are but one end of the equation, however; a restaurant lives and dies on taste (and value, but taste is half that equation, too). And here, too, Queen’s English sings, particularly it’s willingness to play with texture.
I can’t say enough about the daikon fritters. Crisp on the outside, creamy the rest of the way through, the big root has a mild taste that serves as an inspired vessel for savory, umami flavor provided by the dried pork and oyster sauce. Likewise, the crispy rice offers a serious, well, crunch from its time in its cooking pot.
For us, the only semi-miss was the stuffed tofu skin. Filled with chicken, shrimp, and scallop, the flavor was here. Rather, we felt a slight objection to the plating; a handful of crisp cabbage on top nearly swallowed the tofu whole and didn’t offer the slight fresh, acidic bite I’d wager chef had in mind.
But one slight miss is by no means a damning blow, especially considering the dishes we left unordered. (Duck leg!) No, there’s much to love at this small, intimate little spot, a welcome addition to the neighborhood. It certainly provided one of my favorite meals this year and I’m counting down the days until I can return.