Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: nopa Kitchen + Bar - Penn Quarter, DC

NoPA - Logo
Welcome to Chinatown.  Or is it Mt. Vernon Triangle?  Or Penn Quarter?  Apparently it’s now NoPa, North of Pennsylvania.  Who knew?!  Regardless of what you call the neighborhood, new restaurant nopa Kitchen + Bar is a welcome new addition. 

Some friends and I went for dinner on Friday, just a couple short weeks after they first opened their doors.  For those of you who had been to Zola, you’ll notice when you visit nopa that the space is now much larger.  The bar area is slightly bigger and they’ve added at least a couple more rooms of dining tables.  The restaurant was quite crowded which didn’t lend itself to wandering around and exploring the other rooms, but it appeared that each had its own theme of decorations.  I think from what I saw, I like the bar the best – check out the funky flooring!  It’s hard to tell from the photo but on the left are cozy little nooks with high-top tables – hello date spot!  And you won’t be disappointed by the cocktails…

The view behind me - I had a bad experience with a pheasant once (don't ask), so I prefer the second picture, which was the view just to the right of my seat.



Funky lights
My pictures don’t really do justice to the atmosphere and honestly, due to my great company that night, I completely forgot to take any pictures of the food!  Check the website out for a few (, or better yet, just go try it.  Our service was definitely on the slow side, but I always give a restaurant a month or so to work out their kinks and get into a good flow – they’ve got a couple more weeks to speed things up!  That being said, our server Stephanie was wonderful and most certainly charismatic – she took great care of us and kept us entertained.

On to the food:  One of the reviews I read prior to going raved about the pre-buttered herb rolls in the bread basket.  While definitely tasty, these are very similar to what my mom makes at Christmas every year and I think she has perfected hers…these were flavorful but either slightly over-baked or just spent a little too much time in the warmer.  I wouldn’t turn them away, but my mom’s are hard to beat - just sayin.  The almonds on the other hand – get them, they are addictive.  Sweet & spicy… perfect to whet your appetite for the rest of the meal.

I was feeling steak on Friday so I went with the Hangar Steak and potatoes.  Both the meat and tiny little new potatoes were perfectly cooked and full of flavor.  My steak was topped in deliciously caramelized onions.  I didn’t add a speck of salt or pepper to this meal – kudos Chef McCarty for knowing how to properly season your dishes!  My friends got the sea bass, BBQ chicken sandwich and vegetarian soup and everyone was quite pleased.  Make sure you save room for dessert; it is not to be missed.  You’ll want to check out the menu as pretty much everything sounds decadent and amazing, but one thing you have to get is the fried strawberry pie.  Holy moley – that s**t is good!!  Since tasting that pie, I have definitely considered going back and just eating a couple orders as my meal.  This is the only place I have seen fried pie since getting it in Nashville years ago on a cross country road trip – it’s worth every single calorie.

  • Service could be faster.  Direct quote from one of my dining companions, "took long enough that you'll fall asleep on the cab ride back home".  As I said, I give newbies a month of leeway.
  • Fun atmosphere, funky bar.
  • Great food, great drinks and I think it will only get better.
  • Price-wise?  Ehhh, it’s not cheap, but it’s certainly not any more expensive than similar restaurants – in fact, their Hangar Steak is $24 while both Le Diplomate and Central both charge $28.  Drinks, entrée and shared desserts with tip were about $60 and I think it was well worth it.
  • I’ll be back.
(For the record, nopa’s website indicates that they are located in Penn Quarter and that their name reflects their location, not the name of the neighborhood.)

**May 26, 2013 - UPDATE**
I went back to nopa last night (yes, already) and as I suspected they would, they have worked out some kinks.  Our service was faster this time despite it still being quite crowded.  The herb bread was also much better!  Last time it looked like they were making it in sort of a layered pull-apart style, which can lend itself to drying out easily, especially if it's sitting under a warming light or in a drawer.  It was still buttery and herbaceous but it now comes in muffin form, definitely helps keep the inside moist and delicious.  Nice work nopa.  For dinner this time I had the burger - not the best burger in town, but very tasty and cooked exactly as I asked.  The bacon on it was thick and chewy, also how I like it - yum.  Although, my friend who got the bbq chicken sandwich last time got it again and I tried it this good!!  Unless I was going for lunch I probably wouldn't ever order that since there are so many other "dinnery" options on the menu, but seriously - that is a freaking good sandwich.  I will most definitely be ordering that next time.  And yeah, we got the fried pie again - still amazing, end of story.