A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an e-mail image of a poster intended to spotlight Washington’s classic foodstuffs. Its creator clearly wasn’t a local: Crab cakes and rocket-shaped Popsicles were depicted. One thing was right, though: the chivito. The Uruguayan sandwich earned a hard-core following among the after-party crowd over the past couple of years at Fast Gourmet, a gas-station-turned-deli in the U Street corridor.
The eatery was run by two brothers, 25-year-old Manuel and 33-year-old Juan “Nacho” Olivera, who was also the chef. They left that venture behind to open the more refined TakEatEasy downtown in early February. There are only two familiar, slightly tweaked classics from Fast Gourmet on the menu; everything else is new.
Don’t worry: The chivito is one of them. (The Cubano will be available but wasn’t the day I stopped in.) The rightfully acclaimed sandwich has gotten a few upgrades. Pancetta replaces the bacon, garlic mayonnaise is an upgrade from regular mayo, and pickled shiitake mushrooms are now part of the mix. The toasted soft-bun sandwich is rounded out with the usual suspects, including thin strips of filet mignon, mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, slices of hard-cooked egg, green olives and plum tomatoes ($15). I didn’t think it was possible to improve on the original. But I was wrong.
New menu additions include the pan tumaca ($13): Bouncy ciabatta gets slathered with a garlic confit and a tomato spread, setting it up for thick shavings of manchego cheese and rippled ribbons of serrano ham. It’s a rich salt bomb of a sandwich. Reubens seem to be having a moment, so — sure enough — there’s a solid, straightforward rendition here ($12). Like many of the sandwiches, it is accompanied by crisp, hand-cut fries that are tender on the inside — and even better as an appetizer under a blanket of creamy, balanced white wine-mushroom sauce ($7). It’s all too easy to make a plate of serrano ham croquettes filled with bechamel sauce disappear ($7).
Rounding out the menu are tapas ($6 to $11) — and a few entrees, including skirt steak from the Shenandoah Valley Beef Co-operative with chimichurri ($18), and house-made pastas that will rotate regularly ($14 to $18). The pastas are made fresh each morning and cooked to order. Expect to wait five to 10 minutes for your food.
Everything on the menu is available for carryout, but you can take a table or sidle up to the bar if you have the time. Sip from a tight list of Spanish, Argentine and Chilean wines ($7.50 to $11 per glass) or a draft beer ($6). The narrow space is dressed in browns and ambers, creating a nocturnal sensibility. It’s the perfect atmosphere for enjoying a late-night classic reborn.
TakEatEasy 1990 M St. NW. 202-290-2440. www.takeateasydc.com. Hours: Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 a.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.