From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]borderstan.com.
The DC suburbs usually have a lock on the best choices for Vietnamese food, but now Borderstan residents have a new option close to home — Hanoi House, which opened its doors on November 26.
Located in the space formerly occupied by the Hilton brothers’ Blackbyrd Warehouse, Hanoi House showcases the traditional northern Vietnamese cuisine of Marvin Executive Chef James Claudio and his grandmother, Lap Claudio, who taught him the art of Vietnamese cooking in their family home. The restaurant builds on the pho “pop-up” concept that Claudio experimented with last spring at the Montserrat House on 9th Street.
Hanoi House gives us a more extensive look into Vietnamese cuisine beyond pho, adding several categories of food to the pop-up’s menu — four different Banh Mi sandwiches (Vietnamese pork sausage, beef, chicken, slices pork), vermicelli rice noodle bowls with a variety of toppings, spring and summer rolls, green papaya salad, and Banh Xeo, a type of rice flour crepe.
Though serious about its food, Hanoi House has a distinctly lounge feel. As with The Gibson, the cocktails are created by master mixologist Brendan Murphy, and the music engineered by the wonderful Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation. The drink menu features Asian-themes ingredients like tea, coconut milk, ginger, Thai basil, and tamarind; a limited but interesting list of beers from Vietnam, Brazil, and Beligum, and wines meant to complement the cuisine. And of course, a fully stacked bar for all other requests.
The décor is so different from the Blackbyrd you have to remind yourself you are in the same space — the walls, bar stools, and even the cozy booths are splashed with red and lacquered black, the color of luck in the Far East. Perfect for anyone trying to close a lucky deal with a date at the end of an evening out in the neighborhood.
Hanoi House: The Details
- Where Am I Going: 2005 14th Street, NW
- When Am I Going: Monday-Friday, 5 pm – closing; Saturday and Sunday 12 pm – closing.
- Paycheck Pain: Your pocketbook won’t hurt too badly. Cocktails, beer, and wine from $8-$12; Food from $5-$11.
- What am I eating and drinking: Vietnamese chow washed down by Asian-inspired cocktails.
At this point, Borderstan could probably run a weekly article with the headline, “Hilton Brothers Open New Bar in Borderstan” and we would still be right more often than we’d be wrong. And you can hardly blame them. They’ve perfected the combination of a slightly upscale, dim bar space with a rooftop/patio, hip decor, and a limited menu into a recipe for printing money. Marvin, at this point the grand old dame of the empire, is a U Street staple. Blackbyrd went through one iteration as a seafood restaurant, and will reinvent itself as a pho/banh mi restaurant in 2013. Even relatively low-key 18th Street Lounge remains a powerful enough draw that a taxiful of twentysomethings once had our group of friends roll down our windows at a stoplight to see if we were going to “The Lounge.”
It’s enough to get a little bit of Hilton Brothers fatigue. Still, wanting a quick bite and drink before an event later in the night and with a need to stay on U Street, it seemed like almost too ideal a time to try out The Satellite Room, the newest addition to the Hilton collection.
If you didn’t know The Satellite Room existed, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. Tucked away on 9th St north of V St, its location is both disadvantageous and fortuitous. On the one hand, it’ll likely be the watering hole of choice for pre- and post-concert crowds from next-door neighbor 9:30 Club; on the other, my friends CC and Katie both had trouble finding the bar, obscured as it is, and they were actually looking for it.
Find it though, and you’re in for a delightfully fun space. Like its Hilton brethren, it embraces its milieu, in this case a stripped-down warehouse from the looks of it, based on the exposed concrete walls and unfinished floor. Still, a fresh coat of paint and a sizable collection of pop art does a lot to make the space shine. Light bulbs hang over a row of small booths on the right side of the space opposite the main bar, a black-and-white tiletop with a giant script neon “Satellite” sign on the wall above it. Bar seating sits in the front window, while more tables sit in the back. Capping it off is a large covered patio behind the main bar.
Where Satellite Room follows its more recent Hilton contemporaries is in its menu; namely that it has one. The bar serves a neat mix of diner staples and light Mexican fare; to wit, a nontrivial section of the menu is dedicated to make-your-own tacos and one of the notable sides is elote, sweet Mexican corn with Mexican cheese. Still, the majority of the menu would fit right at home in a Johnny Rocket’s.
Take our own meal for example. CC and I both went with alcoholic milkshakes, selecting two of the ten options available, all named after characters from classic TV. CC went simple, picking the Vincent Vega, vanilla with Bulleit bourbon, while I went with the Latka Gravas, an espresso hazelnut with Hennessey VS. Both were delicious, sweet but dangerously enjoyable, with the bourbon providing a strong kick, but no typical bourbon burn, while the Latka was a straight shot of blended coffee bean (though a little light on any kick or sweetness that the other shake had).
The few bites we had to eat were also enjoyable. A patty melt is satisfying with the added surprise of marble rye, a straightforward and meaty dish. Its side of thin-cut fries is similarly tasty.
Overall, a solid place to grab a drink or a bite before you head to a show. I know I’ll be back to try the other eight milkshakes I missed.