Monday, February 19, 2024

Astoria DC (Washington, DC)

Astoria DC Bar
1521 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036
Mon 02/19/2024, 09:45p-12:00a

Astoria DC Exterior

I recently found myself back in the nation's capital for another two weeks, and after landing far behind schedule at DCA, I made my way directly to Dupont Circle to check out a cocktail bar that'd been recommended to me by quite a few industry folks, including those over at Jônt, Trouble Bird, and Daru, among others.

Named after the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, Astoria DC is the sister bar to the H Street Corridor's Copycat Co. The team is led by barman-slash-chef Devin Gong, as well as his Copycat co-owner Chu Yi (another bartender-turned-cook), and they've also brought on board Eli Schwarzschild (a hardcore Sinophile who worked the bar at Copycat) as a partner. While Copycat featured great cocktails and a small menu of basic Chinese street fare, Gong had bigger ambitious for Astoria. He therefore went to China at the end of June 2018 for a culinary research trip, and, while living in Chengdu, taught himself the intricacies of Sichuan cuisine (his favorite, despite being from Harbin in the north himself). Astoria thus grand-opened on April 24, 2019, and quickly established itself as a District favorite, even reaching Michelin Bib Gourmand status just five months after opening (which the bar has retained in all subsequent guides).

Astoria DC Interior
Shown above is the view from my seat adjacent to Astoria's seatless bar. The space was designed by Core Architecture + Design, who also penned Copycat, and features an aesthetic inspired by a mash-up of Victorian era train travel and old New York.

Astoria DC Menu: Introduction

Astoria DC Menu: Classic Cocktails
Astoria DC Menu: Dishes for One

Astoria DC Menu: Dishes for Sharing
Astoria DC Menu: Extra Large Dishes

Astoria DC Menu: Featured Cocktails
As for Astoria's menu, it lists a large array of cocktails, many of the tiki variety, while food-wise, you'll find a selection of Sichuan-leaning Chinese dishes. Click for larger versions.

红油抄手 Chili Wontons
红油抄手 Chili Wontons [$16.00] | Pork wontons, topped with chili oil, cilantro and scallions.
I'm a bit of a sucker for hóng yóu chāoshǒu, so I couldn't resist starting with 'em. The dumplings showed off supple, slippery skins, and delivered in the taste department thanks to an intense presentation of salt, heat, savor and málà, with supporting nutty and garlicky nuances, all perked up by some greenery. I could tell from my very first bite that the kitchen's not shy about spice. A real ode to red chili oil.

27 Swizzle
27 Swizzle [$17.00] | Lime, Demerara, Honey, Allspice, Brugal 1888, Dark Rum Blend, Don's Dash
My first cocktail brought loads of sweet spices right up front, then transitioned briefly to more of a sour character, before finishing long and strong with that honey (and a smidge of mint).

孜然羊肉 Cumin Lamb
孜然羊肉 Cumin Lamb [$25.00] | Fried Lamb shoulder with cumin, chili, onions and cilantro.
Zī rán yángròu is a go-to dish of mine whenever I visit Xinjiang-style Chinese restaurants, so I felt compelled to order it tonight. The lamb came out fatty and mostly tender, with just enough cumin-fueled spice that complemented the meat without ever becoming domineering, and I much appreciated the brightness imparted by the cilantro, too. Yum.

White Rice
I was also provided a bowl of white rice, which had just the right amount of "stick," and was absolutely crucial for moderating all the strong flavors at play tonight.

12 Mile Limit
12 Mile Limit [$17.00] | Lemon, Grenadine, Gold Rum, Rye, Cognac
The troika of rum, rye, and cognac was superbly integrated in this next cocktail, and played foil to the drink's fruity, subtly spicy qualities.

土豆丝 Potato Sliver
土豆丝 Potato Sliver [$16.00] | Stir-fry potato strands with chilis and garlic.
Given my penchant for potatoes, the tǔdòu sī was another must-order for me, and didn't disappoint. I appreciated the taters' crunchy consistency, as well as how seamlessly their sour, savory, spicy flavors meshed with the scallions. Interestingly, I even detected this almost vinous depth in the dish as well.

Anne Darrow
Anne Darrow [$17.00] | Don's Dash, Banana, White Wine, Brugal 1888
Named after the character in King Kong, my third cocktail showed off surprisingly assertive notes of banana, set against a bevy of boozy, bitter, and spicy elements. Lovely.

贵州辣子鸡 La-zi Chicken
贵州辣子鸡 La-zi Chicken [$25.00] | Fried and braised chicken with leeks, chili, ginger, and garlic.
Guizhou-style làzǐ jī was another strong effort due to the bird's spot-on texture and the back-and-forth between the chili and the leeks, all undergirded by touches of sweetness.

小面 Little Noodles
小面 Little Noodles [$18.00] | Chick peas, fried pork, peanut, scallions, skinny noodles. Spicy and numbing.
A bowl of Chongqing-inspired xiǎo miàn hit the spot. The noodles themselves were satisfyingly slick, with just the right amount of chew, and were complemented by a sour, nutty, numbing heat and firm, fatty slices of pork.

Dr. Funk
Dr. Funk [$17.00] | Lemon, Lime, Grenadine, Demerara, Absinthe, Jamaican Dark
I just had to order one cocktail served in a tiki mug, and this one fit the bill nicely with its healthy dosing of grenadine and citrus, juxtaposed against a very apparent backbone of anise.

葱爆羊肉 Scallion Lamb
葱爆羊肉 Scallion Lamb [$23.00] | Stir-fry Lamb with scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce.
The cōng bào yángròu was another winner, with the lamb arriving properly tender, and loaded with this oyster sauce-esque savoriness that combined perfectly with the zestiness of all those green onions.

Vieux Carre
Vieux Carre [$17.00] | Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Rye, Cognac
For my final cocktail, I veered away from tiki and went with something utterly classic instead. This was probably one of the better Vieux Carrés I've had, and I quite fancied its harmonious marriage of spice, brown sugar, boozy heat, dark fruit, bittersweetness, and citrus.

酸辣馄饨 Hot
酸辣馄饨 Hot "N Sour Wontons [$16.00] | Pork wontons in chicken broth, vinegar, pepper and chili oil.
Closing out the night was a serving of suān là húntún, which was actually an off-menu dish recommended by my server. The dumplings featured soft, slick wrappers surrounding a mild pork filling, and combined beautifully with the soup, which was loaded with tangy bits of suān cài and also demonstrated a welcomed undercurrent of heat.

Astoria served as a fantastic welcome back to the DC dining and imbibing scene. While the drinks were pretty much impeccable, they were actually outshined by the food, which did a great job showing off that multifaceted heat, spice, and pungency I was looking for. I didn't expect some of the best Chinese cooking I've had in the past several years to come from a bar in DC, so hats off to Gong and the team. I could even see myself returning on a future business trip to try out the rest of the menu.


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