2.10.09

Gee, Street Food?

When a new lunch opens near the White House, it generates a decent amount of buzz, and generally crowds for at least a little while. Lots of folks work around there, and top lunch places are in high demand. As such, there was definite excitement when it was announced that a mediocre lunch place (Ecco Cafe) was being rebranded as a great-sounding “street food” place, featuring street foods from around the world.

As G Street Food (located on G near 17th NW in DC) opened recently, the buzz was still with it, and we quickly decided we needed to make it a priority to go there at lunch to try it out. When we arrived it was moderately crowded, but nothing more than Ecco ever got.

There's a big menu board when you first walk in to G Street Food and get in line. This contains specials, rotating features and staples. All of the stuff looked reasonably interesting, but we all agreed that there were not a lot of jump-off-the-page items and also not much that was very recognizable as street food. They have a sausage of the day with the highly recognizable Chicago hot dog on Tuesday, but the other days had bratwurst with kimchi and chorizo with an Indian-like sauté in a Middle Eastern saj bread. I find it hard to believe that those combinations actually exist somewhere on the street, as they seem a bit too cross-cultural.

There were lots of breakfast pastries, including tiny Montreal bagels, a tatine and pizza of the day, the Vietnamese pork sandwich bahn mi and a variety of other tatines, sandwiches and salads. Again, only several items really seemed like they would lend themselves to being street food (who gets salad on the street?). And absent were street food classics: burrito, quesadilla, crepe, Middle Eastern halal bowl, Asian dumpling and potsticker, Indian curry, samosa, Philly cheesesteak, Po Boy, Korean ba bim bop. I could go on. Instead what was there was eclectic if not esoteric, and just NOT ringing of street food to me. Even the presentation, in awkward paper bowls with no lid made portability – a street food must – very difficult and awkward.

What I ordered Рthe chorizo in saj Рwas actually very tasty. The chorizo was spicy and very flavorful, and served in the thin crispy saj bread with a terrific sauté of greens, paneer-like cheese, spices and chickpeas served with very good fries. It was a delicious meal, and the flavors melded together wonderfully in each bite. I was not complaining about that. Nine dollars for a sausage is a bit much, but it was tasty. But even this seemed like a combo of three cultures and a bit contrived for street food. Unfortunately, my compatriots weren't quite so pleased with the taste and preparation of what they ordered.

But for now, I'll say the taste and quality is good at G Street Food, but executing the key design – the design that's going to bring me and many others back again and again – is failing right now. Bring me AUTHENTIC street food treasures that I've never heard of from all around the world and dazzle me, but also keep me coming back with some of the street food that we know, love and identify with. Make me know – and not question – that its “street food” on “G” not just “food” on “G Street.”

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