City Paper is not for tourists
If you’ve never seen a burrito made with a green tortilla, the sight is a little unnerving. The color of this particular wrapper is closer to fluorescent than you’d like, making it appear as if someone has taken a highlighter to your meal. The tortilla seems as if it should possess a fruity flavorlime perhaps, or apple Jolly Rancherbut it doesn’t. It’s made from spinach. “I hope this isn’t radioactive,” my friend remarks, before we both bite into our handheld curios.
I’d guess the initial shock value of these alien tortillas is intentional; everything at Wrap Works, the restaurant serving them, is intentional. Started in California and owned by Pepsi, Wrap Works hopes not only to get your business but to reinvent your perceptions of what a restaurant of its ilk actually is. As the menu states, Wrap Works serves food fast, but it’s “NOT fast food.” The burritos “are not burritos,” says the woman behind the cash register, but “wraps. Everyone eats them in California.”
Actually, Wrap Works is as much a marketing exercise as a restaurant. Taking its conceptual cues more from the pages of Details than from
common fast-food franchises, the Georgetown restaurant (there’s a new location in Dupont Circle) wages a sort of visual and culinary war against short attention spans. Dance-club jams, most of them circa ’86, blare from a sound system that can be heard on the sidewalk outside, where tables are set no matter how cold it is. On the second floor, where most of the dining is done, separate televisions are set to different cable channels. On the stairs leading upstairs, there’s a faux-graffiti mural with what appears to be the mold of a giant pineapple sculpture mounted on top of it. Diners can sit at glass tables against the wall, on stools overlooking the entryway, or in stuffed chairs in the corner where newspapers are set in case you want to pretend you’re in a coffee shop and loiter. On one visit I overhear a college kid wishing there were some computer terminals, an idea I’m sure was considered and then scrapped during the restaurant’s planning stages.
“It’s just so much,” says a friend, surveying this product of vigorous market research. The same could be said of the food. You have to agree with the cashier: Referring to WW’s wares as burritos is a little misleading, although that’s what they look like. Soft tortillas provide the shell for everything on the menu, and you’ll always find some beans and/or rice inside. But that’s where the similarities end.
Not content simply to provide a fresh alternative to Taco Bell, WW shoots for rendering the knife and fork irrelevant. Lurking inside every wrap are entrees you aren’t likely to find at any normal Mexican restaurantkung pao chicken, for exampleand that you probably only dared to eat with your hands at solitary moments.
If you don’t let all the pomp and circumstance get to you, Wrap Works’ inventions can be pretty good. The Ken and Barbecue, like many of the items on the menu, reminds me of what we used to refer to as a “dinner malt” when I was growing upan unsightly but oddly satisfying marriage of leftovers. Wrap Works grills all its chicken and beef, and the K&B binds together a choice of either meat with garlic mashed potatoes, black beans, crunchy corn-and-pepper relish, tart lime sour cream, and slaw, wrapping it in a spinach tortilla.
Eating the La Bomb-ba wrap, I feel like I’m downloading several meals at once. The chicken and vegetable mixture exists somewhere between an Asian stir fry and something you might find over pasta at an Italian place. The hellish relish, a mild salsa chunky enough to be a salad, and lime sour cream recall condiments served at many new-American restaurants. And the black beans, Spanish rice, and ranchero cheese remind me that the blueprint for all of it is Mexican. In comparison, General Mustard (filled with a mushroom medley, Dijon chicken, mango salsa, rice, and beans) and the Green Party (ditto, but with vegetables instead of chicken) are downright minimalist.
Such wanton mingling will no doubt strike sophisticated gastronomes as crude, but there’s no ducking the fact that Wrap Works’ gargantuan flavor-fixes achieve a certain triumph: When you consider that the food all ends up in the same place anyhow, they prove that it doesn’t matter how you shovel it in. Granted, the executive who OK’d combining curried vegetables with roasted walnuts, sliced apples, and toasted coconut inside a tortilla should stick to making marketing decisions. But I can’t help thinking that the chicken Caesar wrapeven though the one I try is assembled poorlymight just catch on.
If only the place didn’t rely on so many gimmicks. Not only does every wrap have its own cutesy name, most of them trademarked, but they all have their own logos as well. A variety of fruit smoothies is offered, with a choice of nutritional boosts that I’m convinced do absolutely nothing. Even the ice has an act: It travels in crushed bits through a plastic tube that starts near the ceiling and ends up next to the cash register. “Don’t you think this place will get old after a while?” a friend half-shouts over the music, trying to divert my attention away from the television screen. That’s a good question.
Wrap Works, 1079 Wisconsin Ave. NW. (202)
The idea behind Steak Around is to be the Domino’s of the New York strip. While one reader proclaims that the advent of home-delivered steak marks the “end of an era” in which he ate out every other night, I don’t think Morton’s has much to worry about. The beef, like the baked potato, comes scrupulously wrapped in aluminum foil, ostensibly to preserve the juices. But it’ll take more than foil to save the pathetically thin ribeye that I orderit arrives cold. I should have taken it as a sign when the guy on the phone asked me what kind of dressing I’d like on my Caesar salad.
Steak Around, 1015 20th St. NW. (202) 463-2111.
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