A Change of Pace in Fast Food
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 24, 2006
It's a shame that fast food developed such a bad reputation in this country, or rather that it has evolved the way it has. In Asia, fast food is street food: soups, noodles, dumplings, wraps, satays and so on, dishes far lower in fat and cholesterol, not to mention easier on the digestion, than Dagwood burgers and oil-soaked fries.
Carryout food took at least a step forward in the 1990s with the fad of pay-by-the-pound buffets. But at those places that offered sushi, it was generally as bad as air-freighted grocery-chain sushi.
Now the owners of Chopsticks Japanese restaurant in Georgetown have opened a luncheonette called Suki Asia, a concept they describe as "fast Asian food in downtown," and although the food isn't altogether interesting or quite consistent, there are some surprisingly good items. And it's just about as fast as any other lunch counter around.
Suki is a verb meaning "to like," so it translates roughly as "Asian favorites" "Asian food lovers" or even something along the lines of "Asian chowhounds." (As it happens, suki can also mean a spade or farming tool, so if your parents used to accuse you of shoveling your food, this is the place for you.)
In fact, it is primarily Japanese; sushi is the big draw. It's all fairly mainstream: shrimp, California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, salmon and cream cheese, veggie rolls -- unagi (eel) is as exotic as it gets. And to be honest, the sushi wouldn't win any prizes for looks: It's uneven, the ends of the rolls not flattened or trimmed and so on, but the rice is much better than at those pile-it-on places or refrigerator counters, correctly seasoned and sticky rather than starchy.
Suki Asia also offers a couple of teriyaki dishes, both donburi style (on a bed of rice) or in bento boxes. These are fairly generous: A chicken teriyaki bento is the size of a TV dinner and includes a large chicken breast, rice, a few pieces of California roll and seaweed salad for $7.00. Udon noodles in broth are fat, smooth and famously comforting; yakisoba is a generous pile of pan-fried soy-and-sesame noodles, though the shrimp and chicken versions have much more interest than the nearly naked vegetarian dish.
There are a few Korean dishes on the menu, such as a bibimbap (assorted vegetables over rice with chili sauce), a boolgoki version, which adds marinated, thin-sliced beef (tasting rather more like sukiyaki than boolgoki, but they're very close) and a boolgoki bento. Curry, which is actually quite a popular dish in Japan, a mild yellow style, is available with shrimp or chicken.
Surprisingly, some of Suki Asia's best items are usually the least successful at carryouts: the dumplings. The wasabi shumai, eight quite meaty but delicate pieces, are very good and held up well. The vegetable gyoza, prepared in neatly pinched green wrappers like fat snow peas, were even nicer and also traveled remarkably well.
Suki Asia is quite small -- only a dozen or so seats, and sodas and teas in a cooler -- but there are a half-dozen people working at a time, two in the kitchen, two at the sushi bar and a couple of facilitators, and the orders do turn over quickly. It's a nice change from a sub, and perhaps it will encourage more eclectic luncheonettes to take a risk.
Now if we could only get someone to make Japanese breakfast.