Caribbean food appears to be moving off the islands and onto the plates of trendy diners here. This recent interest in island cooking -- perhaps an extension of our pursuit of things hot and spicy and fresh -- follows closely on the heels of the Cajun craze. In New York, it's led to a minor explosion of things Caribbean, from increased cookbook sales to lines before restaurants serving the fare of Jamaica, Haiti and other West Indies islands.
In Washington, such savories as rotis, ital stew and jerk meats have moved to the heart of Adams-Morgan with the arrival of two recently opened eateries: The Islander, late of Sherman Avenue, and Fish, Wings & Tings, a funky and refreshingly enthusiastic cafe/carryout.
The floor and ceiling at Fish, Wings & Tings are black, the high white walls trimmed in bright yellow. A giant crayon hangs above the counter; an oversized can opener adorns a wall, as do two enormous records. Birds of paradise and other exotica burst forth from black glass vases on the tables. The background music varies from reggae to jazz to soul.
Fish, Wings & Tings gives fast food a new meaning: You place your order over a counter but have it delivered to your table. There's little service, but I've found the staff extremely gracious and knowledgeable about the menu, a boon to those curious about but unfamiliar with this cuisine.
True to this restaurant's name, the menu features fish (kingfish, monkfish, yellow snapper, porgy), wings (sauteed, curry- and ginger-infused, pineapple and jerk) and "tings" (vegetable-laden ital and conch stews, goat and steak, plus a handful of Salvadoran specialties).
There are few disappointments, merely pleasant little surprises in taste. Jerk meats -- in this case, highly seasoned chicken pieces -- are exceptionally meaty and moist, the skin slightly crunchy and caramelized in a glaze of peppery heat, doused with a mixture similar to a good barbecue sauce.
Wings are a fine choice, be they the gingery pineapple wings, bathed in a light sauce reminiscent of sweet and sour, or the mildly hot curry-and-ginger-coated chicken wings.
Fish is marinated in an interesting blend of vinegar, onions, tomatoes and peppers, with a bit of sweetness. The kingfish was quite flavorful, with a delicate crisp skin and moist interior, while the red snapper escovitch tasted a bit too fishy.
The specials can be quite good. Ital stew, thick and piquant with generous amounts of broccoli, carrots, corn and sweet potato, tasted of long and gentle simmering. A large pan-fried steak, thin but juicy, was served Caribbean style, topped with sauteed onions, tomatoes and green peppers. Of the south-of-the-border specialties, the cheesy and supple chiles rellenos were a hit.
Dessert? The fruit salad was a cornucopia of freshness and color: a generous plate of honeydew, sliced strawberries, creamy bananas, apple, orange, canteloupe and grapes blanketed in a fragrant nutmeg-yogurt sauce.
The homemade beverages are every bit a draw as the food. The pineapple punch is subtly fruity and aromatic, with a zingy ginger aftertaste. The fruit punch usually tastes of pineapple, but on occasion more of banana. There are plans to broaden the selection with a juice bar.
Fish, Wings & Tings is fun, it's delicious, and it stands out -- beautifully -- as a welcome addition to the culinary repertoire of Adams-Morgan.