For the workday warrior seeking lunch, 18th Street NW is a bit of a mess these days. Road construction and closed sidewalks make for a less-than-ideal midday jaunt. But those willing and able to make it to City2Cafe's doorstep will find their effort worthwhile.
The cafe offers a selection of standard deli fare, but we were most interested in the Korean box platters. Owner Kevin Ko, who has operated the cafe since July, said adding the platters to the menu made sense with the dearth of Korean carryout downtown. (His Willow Oaks Cafe in Fairfax, which he has owned for 15 years, does not serve them.) He also thought Korean food's reputation for being fresh and healthful would appeal to customers.
And it does. Diners can watch their meals hit the griddle behind the counter and know they have been cooked to order, with minimal oil. We liked the sweet and spicy flavors of the pork platter ($8.50), with tender meat that is marinated overnight. The verdict on the chicken teriyaki platter ($8.50) was mixed: Some found it too salty, so we recommend asking for less sauce, which is added after cooking, to let the taste of the griddled chicken come through.
The bibimbap ($8.50) turned out to be enough food for two. Ko said the right way to eat it is to mix together all of the platter's components (rice, beef, steamed vegetables, a spicy house-made sauce) and then put the fried egg back on top. We'll have to remember that for next time.
All the platters come with the cafe's combination of jasmine and Korean rice that has just the right degree of stickiness, and a choice of kimchi or salad. Kimchi fans will appreciate the cafe's rendition, with big pieces of crunchy cabbage and an authentically fishy pungency.
The staff turns out a serviceable turkey burger ($5.75), and the bulging vegetarian wrap ($7.95) was essentially a rolled salad. To greens freaks, that's a good thing, especially when it's spiked with a bit of feta.
About a half-dozen tables and some window seating fill this slip of a restaurant with cheerful orange walls. More people seem to get their food to go, but those with a moment to spare might enjoy letting Ko espouse the benefits of his Korean cuisine. One that we've determined: It's the perfect antidote to the common cold cut.
- Becky Krystal (Good to Go. October 27, 2010)