ShopHouse is the latest restaurant opening in D.C. occupying that curious middle space between fast food and casual dining. Should the restaurant and its speedy pan-Asian cuisine catch on, it may follow the path of its sister restaurant, Chipotle, and spread across the Unites States. But for now, diners looking to sample a bit of Asian fusion cuisine and not break the bank can head over to Dupont Circle and give ShopHouse a try.
The concept is similar to that of Chipotle – give diners a handful of highly customizable options, and serve them all with an eco-friendly focus. But here, instead of riffing on burritos and taco salads with a mashup of different salsas and meats, customers can create their meal by picking either a bowl or sandwich base and topping it with meats and tofu, sauces and garnishes, at $6 to $8 a plate.
The bowls are all filled with a rice component, be it jasmine rice, brown rice or chilled rice noodles, which all serve to fill the diner, absorb the sauces, and be forgotten amidst very powerful toppings. The sandwiches are served atop a sizeable piece of dense, crunchy bread, which makes for quite effortful eating when chewing into the bread and practically unhinging the jaw to take the first bite.
Meats come next, by way of grilled chicken satay, grilled steak, pork and chicken meatballs and seasoned organic tofu. The stand-out protein element is easily the pork and chicken meatballs, which are well seasoned with fresh herbs. They are most notable for their excellent texture; a crispy shell gives way to light and fluffy ground meat beneath. The delicious steak is sliced into decent sized chunks that let diners get a good look at the meat’s medium-rare coloring, but it is seasoned potently and should be combined with that high-impact flavor in mind.
Four vegetables can be added to the bowls: Chinese broccoli, charred corn, eggplant and long beans. Be they tossed with caramelized onions like the beans or coated in a chili-vinegar sauce like the broccoli, the vegetables bring their own distinct flavors (which can complicate a bowl creation), but add great texture to the mix (especially when the wok frying brings with it a nice charring).
The sandwiches are only treated with a Sriacha-seasoned mayonnaise (a delicious condiment), but those opting for the bowls get their pick of a tamarind vinaigrette or a green or red curry. The sauce selection is disappointing. While this spot earns vegetarian points for adding a tofu option, they are quickly yanked away upon discovery that the curries are not, in fact, vegetarian friendly. They also run thin. While one might expect a chain-made Asian spot to tone down the heat to appeal to a wider audience, it does not in the case of its red curry. While some might enjoy an extra-spicy option, this sauce moves from some-like-it-hot to flavor-obscuring after the first few bites.
Green papaya slaw, pickled vegetables and herb salad garnish options bring some tanginess to the mix, and toasted rice, crispy garlic and crushed peanut toppings add a bit of crunch. By the time the creation is made, especially in the case of the bowls, there is much room for error in the blending of different flavors and textures. The safer bet (for those uncertain of how coconut-milk seasoned chicken would taste alongside basil-flavored eggplant slathered in a tamarind sauce) is to pick the sandwiches, which follow a prescribed menu of bread, papaya slaw, herb salad, spicy mayo and crushed peanut topping that only leaves the meat or tofu to be decided upon (and any can be swapped into this winning combination).
ShopHouse is located at 1516 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. For more information, call 202-232-4141 or visit shophousekitchen.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.