For those who can't decide which Asian cuisine they have a hankering for on any given day, this new restaurant covers the region with familiar dishes from seven countries. Opened in early February, it's mellow and modern, with 80 dining seats and a five-seat sushi bar. Takeout customers wait for orders at a tiny, four-stool bar where pretty Venetian glass shades hang overhead.
Simply Ayzen is owned by a group of employee investors that includes restaurateur Kiyoto Kondo, owner of the Japanese eatery Yosaku, also in Tenleytown, and Tono Sushi in Woodley Park.
From the long list of dinner entrees and with a nod to Vietnam, the Saigon grilled lemon grass pork ($12) is an explosion of five-spice flavor; its three generous skewers of succulent meat accompany a mound of rice vermicelli garnished with toasted bits of shallot. For dipping, I'm mad for the bright-tasting, lemon-infused fish sauce that's served alongside. This is the place to go for a terrific version of Hong Kong-style shrimp chow fun ($10 lunch, $12 dinner), perfectly sauteed wide rice noodles with egg and Chinese broccoli bound in a delicious brown sauce, plus four plump crustaceans ($8 lunch, $10 dinner for beef, chicken, pork and vegetable versions).
Vegetarians will appreciate the satisfying Malaysian yellow curry ($8 lunch, $10 dinner; also available with chicken) that combines potato, broccoli, onion, carrot, snow peas and tofu in a well-balanced sauce rich with coconut milk and mildly seasoned with chili peppers. Singapore noodle ($8 lunch, $10 dinner with chicken, beef, pork or tofu; $10 lunch, $12 dinner with shrimp) has universal appeal, with vermicelli subtly seasoned with just a hint of curry powder, ground white pepper and fresh ginger.
Hailing from Indonesia is the hearty nasi gorang ($10 lunch, $12 dinner). On a bed of nicely seasoned fried rice tossed with chunks of tomato is a variety of protein in the form of one fried egg, two steamed shrimp and two beautifully grilled chicken satay skewers.
-- Walter Nicholls (March 26, 2008)