Diners concerned about the safety of carryout should know that the industry, long concerned about food safety and general hygiene, is being extra vigilant these days. Interviews with the owners of the following establishments, and personal observation of their practices — from the table where customers collect their orders outside Anju to the social distancing practiced by staff inside Clarity — make me confident in recommending them for more than their ace cooking.
Who needs flowers in the house when there’s carryout from Anju? The unpacked contents from the Korean hotspot in Dupont Circle brighten a room as surely as any bouquet. Consider just the ssam board, DIY tacos assembled from ribbons of rosy marinated short rib and ruffles of spring-green lettuce (ssam is Korean for “wrapped”). The board’s multiple parts span magenta pickled radishes, bronzed garlic that spreads like butter, white steamed rice and red ssamjang, the thick and spicy paste made with garlic, onion, sesame oil and more. To look at ssam is to take in a rainbow.
“Asian food travels well,” says co-owner Danny Lee, whose mother, Yesoon Lee, the traditionalist in the kitchen, is staying home for the duration of the pandemic. His sentiment is mine as I unwrap steamed pork dumplings, as supple and juicy as I’ve had them in the restaurant, and devour a fiery kimchi teaming shredded Brussels sprouts and crisp apple. Never mind that the signature twice-fried chicken, accompanied by sweet-spicy gochujang and Alabama-style white barbecue sauce, is apt to cool down en route to a plate at home. “I eat cold chicken all the time,” says Lee. For the full Anju experience, you have to include in your order aged kimchi. Thirty days’ time makes for a pleasantly funky ferment.
Not every choice dish from Anju is offered. You’ll have to wait until the restaurant reopens for a taste of the furikake-spiced “tornado” potato, which looks like a fried Slinky and is best eaten at the source. I’m counting the weeks (fingers crossed) when that fantasy becomes reality. 1805 18th St. NW. 202-845-8935. anjurestaurant.com. Entrees $17 to $32 (for ssam board). Takeout: Daily 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Picking up a meal at Centrolina in CityCenter comes with a perk near the checkout counter: shelves of curated goodies — anchovies, chickpeas, grape must, nougat — to fill any gaps in your pantry. Plan, then, to shell out extra when you think you’ve come just for pasta from Amy Brandwein, whose pastas, you should know, are some of the best around. If there’s a first among equals, it’s fettuccine draped with white-with-veal Bolognese, the sauciness of which helps preserve its status from point A to B. Minced carrots sweeten the dish; sage weighs in with subtle mintiness.
Pasta is part of a dinner package for two, with multiple choices spread across four courses, for $115. It’s admittedly a splurge amid so much economic uncertainty, but also a creative way to, say, toast a special occasion or take that postponed trip to Italy within the safety of your own four walls. Plus, it’s food enough for a light lunch the next day. The menu starts with a salad — the combination of melting fennel, biting radicchio and sweet apple calls to me — followed by a pasta and something from Centrolina’s wood-fired grill. Branzino remains crisp from the flames and stays moist, thanks to lemon slices tucked inside the fish. The main course arrives in a garland of tomatoes, olives and marvelous potatoes made rich and wonderful with olive oil. Rounding out the feast is a vegetable: broccoli rabe with slivered garlic, the workhorse of Italian sides.
Dinner’s select bookends, both also offered a la carte, are the tomato-sauced, cheese-latticed focaccia and the crisp, pistachio-sprinkled cannoli filled with whipped ricotta. In between bread and dessert, enjoy a liquid Italian pleasure. Like a number of its peers, this restaurant sells wine to go.974 Palmer Alley NW. 202-898-2426. centrolinadc.com. Pasta and entrees $24 to $40 (for charred rib-eye). Takeout: Daily noon to 8:30 p.m. (whole dinners 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.).
The scene outside Clarity in Vienna on a recent Saturday night: smoke wafting from an outdoor grill and a parking lot with so many arrivals and departures, it felt like an airport the day before Thanksgiving. Servers who used to ferry Jonathan Krinn’s creative food from kitchen to table were now looking for license plates corresponding to curbside pickups.
The menu is a mash-up of dishes personal to Krinn (pho and banh mi inspired by his Vietnamese wife); popular as carryout (barbecue, fresh-churned ice cream); or linked to his upscale restaurant. Mal Krinn, the chef’s father, continues to bake the bread for the operation.
The grill, set behind a wall on the front patio, is the source of dynamite baby back ribs that are smoked over a mix of hickory and Japanese charcoal and brushed with a combination of hot peppers, vinegar, roasted pineapple, fish sauce, tomato ragu and other enhancers. An unintentional draw is the cooking show itself. The setup, watched over by chef de cuisine Nick Palermo, draws a bit of an audience, as if Palermo were the host of a genial neighborhood cookout. If you have time to kill before your order is ready, stagger yourselves along the wall — you know the drill by now —and dream about life as it used to be.
The banh mi, based on pillowy French-style bread baked in part with rice flour, is unconventional and packed with umami. A foie gras smear on the roll is followed by a slather of aged soy sauce mayonnaise, smoked pork and tangy pickles. Once served only at staff meal on Thursdays, Mal Krinn’s four-cheese focaccia pizza has gone public at Clarity. The restaurant ran out by the time I placed my online order, alas. But when the chef tells me employees requested Thursday shifts for the pre-shift pie alone, well, that’s yet another reason to return to Clarity. 442 Maple Ave. E., Vienna. 703-539-8400. claritytogo.com. Lunch items $10 to $17; dinners, including appetizer and dessert, $35 to $39, Takeout: Lunch Monday through Saturday noon to 12:30 p.m.; dinner daily 4 to 8:30 p.m.
The blessing of being a small restaurant, says Matt Baker of Gravitas, is the ability to make decisions quickly. In the age of coronavirus, diners are less interested in his innovative tasting menu than in comfort food. No sooner did his dining room in Ivy City close for sit-down service than the chef switched to offering pretty much what his staff ate at family meals: dishes they knew best because they grew up eating them.
Pupusas, big as plates and stuffed with beans, are the handiwork of the Vasquez clan from El Salvador, six members of whom work in his restaurant. Throw in some shredded cabbage and salsa, and you’ve got a soothing supper that hits all the right notes. Braised pork shoulder and hominy in a broth that’s red and racy with cayenne and chiles comes courtesy of line cook Gustavo Torres, a son of Guerrero, Mexico. Of all the takeout that has landed in my fridge in recent weeks, his posole, zapped with lime juice, is the carton I missed most when it was gone. Then again, the lush Thai-style coconut curry, from sous-chef Walter Siggins, is equally transporting. Crammed with bites of chicken, bright with carrots and green beans and shot through with lemongrass, it’s a curry that stays in your mind long after you’ve dispatched it. Shortly after I placed my order, Gravitas broadened its selections to include such crowd-pleasers as beef bourguignon, grilled salmon with beet salad and mashed chickpeas, plus wine and spirits.
A number of restaurants are selling frozen cookie dough; among the finest flavors is oatmeal raisin from Gravitas, whose delicious drops of dough sometimes bypass the oven and go directly into the mouth. (Guess how I know.) Like everyone else who picks up dinner, my order came with a thank-you note signed by everyone in the kitchen. In flush times, a card would have carried 15 names. Mine bore just seven. I want to shake all their hands in gratitude; for now, this no-contact high-five will have to suffice. 1401 Okie St. NE. 202-763-7942. gravitasdc.com. Entrees $21 to $44 (for weekend-only prime rib dinner). Takeout: Tuesday through Friday 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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