Orange Spoon

Asian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
Orange Spoon photo
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Editorial Review

Orange Spoon in the West End
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Studies have shown that it’s easier for people to make decisions when choices are limited; too many options can lead to gridlock. You may be gripped with such paralysis when you walk into Orange Spoon, a sprawling deli that opened in the West End in April.

There’s a coffee counter and a sandwich station on the left, a hot buffet toward the back of the room, a salad bar at the center, islands brimming with savory and sweet snacks everywhere and a number of refrigerated cases in the far right corner. What to do?

Take a cue from the fact that owner Hyeok Kim, 52, of Potomac (who also owns Cafe 57 in Lanham) is originally from South Korea. The deli’s name comes from an old Korean saying, along the lines of “a spoonful of orange makes you eat.”

Concentrate on the pan-Asian items that are available mostly at the serve-yourself buffets ($5.49 per pound during breakfast hours, $7.49 per pound for the rest of the day). At lunchtime, fill a corner of your takeout container with the cold, slightly spicy japchae salad made with vermicelli-thin sweet potato noodles and bits of watercress, mushroom and onion. Add a couple of room-temperature rice logs simply seasoned with sesame oil and vinegar, then wrapped in deep-fried, soy marinated tofu known as yuba. Don’t forget to get a little kimchi, embellished with healthy amounts of garlic and ginger.

Moving on from the Far Eastern fare, scoop up a spoonful of avocado-and-tomato salad dressed lightly with apple cider vinegar and a dollop of the pale yellow potato salad that wouldn’t be out of place at a Hawaiian picnic. The smoked-chicken mac and cheese perked up with diced, grilled pimento is a worthy indulgence at any time of year.

There are few avoidable selections. The near-weightless rice-paper-wrapped cylinders inspired by Vietnamese summer rolls are a disappointment, hiding nothing but shredded iceberg lettuce, a strip of red bell pepper and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piece of shrimp. The pesto pasta salad is dotted with flavorless black olives. And the pulled pork barbecue is surprisingly tough and chewy and glistens with an overly sweet sauce.

Most of the sandwiches here boast about-town names, such as the beef gyro Wolf Trap ($7.25) and the Cherry Blossom, packed with steaming roast beef and melted provolone ($7.95). Unfortunately, the D.C. Festival ($7.25), with Boar’s Head roast turkey, a couple of cold bacon strips and not-quite-ripe avocado bits, was not the party in my mouth I was hoping for.

If you decide to eat in instead of heading on your way, you need to make one last choice: Sit at one of the tables inside or grab one of the many shaded ones outside.