Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lunch at Oya

Before I jump into another restaurant review, I feel the need to explain myself.

I think that at this point, you probably think that I eat out too much, but I have to tell you that this summer I've been eating out far more than normal. I didn't start this blog expecting it to be all restaurant reviews.

Having said that, I recently had lunch with a friend at Oya.

Oya is described as a “contemporary Asian-French fusion restaurant” in D.C. I picked it first because it was close to some museums that I wanted to explore (namely, the National Portrait Gallery, which currently has a fantastic exhibit on Norman Rockwell).

I had originally wanted to eat at TenPenh, but I’ve already reviewed that restaurant for you, and I thought I would go someplace new. So, when I saw that Oya was conveniently located in the city, I checked its website. What caught my eye was their prix fixe lunch menu for $19, which includes an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. An excellent deal, and with a nice selection to choose from too. When I read online reviews and saw that others had enjoyed their experiences at Oya, my mind was made up, and I promptly made a reservation. (Note: Oya is one of those few restaurants that uses OpenTable, but gives you no points for making a reservation)

Unfortunately, my expectations were not met. I am actually a little sad to be writing this review, since it is not a very positive one.

To start the meal, a bowl of four warm, cheesy choux pastries was placed before us to munch on while we looked at the menu. As I have said before, I am not a big fan of things that involve cheese, but these little airy balls were a nice, savory start to the meal.

Our first appetizer was something that I had seen on the menu online and had gotten rather excited about: ginger butternut squash cappuccino with almond cloud and almond nougatine. The “cappuccino” came to the table hot and looked beautiful, but it was absolutely devoid of character or any real flavor. That is to say, I could taste the butternut squash, but the soup desperately needed more seasoning and the ginger was completely absent. It was bland and had no complexity. The “almond cloud” was more like a foamy, frothy, warm cream; it didn’t have any almond flavor at all. The almond nougatine didn’t really make an appearance either, and after several spoonfuls of the same flat taste in my mouth, I put my spoon down. It was a 5 out of 10. I would not order it again. It wasn’t bad, it was just lifeless.

Our other appetizer was a chilled ginger carrot soup. This soup was creamy, and you could taste the sweet earthiness of carrots. The ginger provided a warmth in the back of the throat, and while this soup too could have benefitted from a more generous salting, we gave it a 7 out of 10 for effort.

For our main course, I was actually given an incorrect dish. I had ordered scallops, yet I was given salmon fillet. While the fish looked good, it wasn’t what I wanted. I called our waiter over (a different server had brought over our food) and told him about the mistake. He apologized and told me that my dish would be coming right out. The wait was a little bit longer than I expected—I actually think a new order had to be placed for my dish, so perhaps my order was put down incorrectly?—but our waiter seemed very apologetic about the whole thing, and everyone makes mistakes, so moving on…

These scallops with seasame soy glaze, pad thai noodles, bean sprouts, and shiitake helped restore my faith in the kitchen somewhat. The scallops were cooked in the technique I’m seeing everywhere now (Blue Duck Tavern, Jaleo), in which they are caramelized and then immediately removed from the pan, so that the protein stays incredibly tender and just melts in the mouth. The entire dish can be described in one word: creamy. That isn’t to say that it tasted full of fat; there was a smooth, silky, melt-in-your-mouth quality to all of it. The pad thai noodles were in a citrusy, cream sauce that I enjoyed. The mushrooms were wonderful—earthy and flavorful. The scallops were nicely cooked and pleasing in their soft texture. My only complaint is that I wish there had been a little less soy glaze, as the natural sweetness of the scallop wasn’t allowed to shine through the saltiness of the soy (I got no hint of the seasame). Overall an 8 out of 10.

This tuna sashimi salad, unfortunately, was not what we hoped at all. I had read in reviews online about how wonderful seafood and sushi dishes are at Oya, and so when my lunch partner had been deciding between tuna and ribs, I suggested the tuna. I wish I had stayed silent. The fish tasted odd, off, as if it wasn’t very fresh. It smelled fine, but there was a fishiness to its taste that was not altogether pleasant. Besides that, the salad was lifeless. It had texture, yes, but it wasn’t flavorful and I just wasn’t excited about eating it and I wouldn’t suggest anyone order it. (My apologies to my friend who I did tell to order it)

This dessert was the banana bread pudding with rum raisin ice cream, caramel sauce, and coconut. The hot pudding was full of the taste of bananas, which I enjoyed, and the combination of the ice cream, caramel sauce, brûléed banana, and toasted coconut satisfied us, and helped us to feel that the meal hadn’t been a complete bust. We gave the pudding an 8 out of 10.

This is the bittersweet molten chocolate cake with mandarin orange anglaise and vanilla ice cream. I think the kitchen over cooked the molten cake a bit, for the center of it was not, as it should have been, molten. What I mean is that my dessert was essentially a moist brownie. I expected a melty, oozy, chocolate center, but this is not what I got. I got an unsophisticated chocolate cake. I also did not taste mandarin orange or any hint of citrus in the anglaise. Once again, my expectations were not met, and once again, I just couldn't make myself finish the dish. That is not to say that dessert was bad, but I expect so much better from a restaurant of Oya’s quality, especially one located in Penn Quarter in D.C.

As a place, Oya was nice. I liked the contemporary décor that focused on white and glass, with a touch of black. Service was good (especially about refilling our water glasses, which is something I always note, since I drink a fair amount of water). But as a restaurant, I would say that Oya failed. I will not be returning. DC has far too many good restaurants that I haven’t explored for me to give this one another chance. I’m not happy to say this, but I would give this restaurant zero stars out of four.

777 9th Street NW
Washington DC 20001
Tel: 202-393-1400

Overall experience: would not recommend

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