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Like several of the businesses that neighbor it in Adams Morgan, Yin Yang Noodles & Grill is a multitiered operation. Each of its three floors is meant to cater to a different temperament, ostensibly so that if you tire of one the other two will entice you to stick around. Bars and pool tables in the basement and a dance floor upstairs (Club Phats) help make Yin Yang competitive in a neighborhood where attracting post-dinner barflies is crucial.
The scene is so typicaltwentysomethings tolerating plastic beer cups and decade-old pop music in hopes of finding a good timethat it hardly warrants description. Same with the food available on the middle level, which is pan-Asian (now there’s an idea) and served at a glacial pace.
The opening of a restaurant like Yin Yang in Adams Morgan is particularly significant to me because the question I’m asked second-most frequentlyright after “What’s your favorite restaurant?”is “Where should I go in Adams Morgan?” The prolonged “ummm” that generally serves as my answer runs counter to the strip’s reputation as a vibrant dining district.
The people who inquire are mostly those who fall into the area’s presumed demographictypes who might in fact try out Club Phats after dinner. Top-notch restaurants like Cashion’s and I Matti are too expensive, particularly if you plan to tie one on. Ethiopian is a yet-to-be-acquired taste for most transients, and the few other quality ethnic joints, such as India Gate, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone looking for action. I love Le Cafe Riche, but it’s hard to count on its food, much less its being open, and the proprietor is something of an acquired taste himself. Ummm is right.
What’s left are places like Yin Yang. In the five months it has been open, I’ve heard complaints about service that are ratified when I drop in. Our waiter employs the shoulder shrug to answer just about every question we ask, from “What would you recommend?” to “How much longer until our food’s ready?” to “Do you know the score of the game?” The first indication of vocal capacity is when he tells us he’s “not sure” why we have to drink beer from plastic cups.
All of which wouldn’t be a big deal if the food were any good. But the ground shrimp that’s served with crab claws as an appetizer is rubbery, and the dish isn’t helped any by the small bowl of salt (no, really) that accompanies it as a condiment. The juicy gyoza are better, steamed and served with a sesame soy sauce that seeps nicely into the mixture of garlic, ginger, pork, and scallions that fill the dough. Assuming that the yin yang noodles are representative of the rest of the soups, I’d advise ordering a selection from either the wok or the grill; the Singapore fried noodles and the teriyaki salmon at least arrive fresh and stack up with what you’d find at any average Asian restaurant.
But the fundamental problem with Yin Yang is that, like many similar Adams Morgan restaurants, it assumes that the gustatory development of its patrons stopped around the time they attended their last fraternity party. So why should we care that the eggs garnishing the gado gado salad are discolored, or that the dish is thrown at us when we’re all but ready to leave? We’re here to scope chicks. Right?
D.C. Casa Africana, another new addition to Adams Morgan, is a different breed of restaurant. It isn’t designed deliberately to attract crowds of partiers and is run by natives of West Africa, the region represented on the menu.
It’s easy to tell when the person serving you has a stake in the success of the restaurant. A few minutes after ordering dekudessi, a palm-nut-butter stew served with a choice of chicken, beef, or fish, the cook pays me a visit to tell me I should reconsider. “It’s very African,” she says. “I don’t think you’ll like it.” I take her advice, and am thankful for it.
I’ll admit to not being big on African cuisine; vegetables play a small roll in the meat-heavy dishes, and the traditional peanut- and tomato-based sauces, even when ordered hot, hardly register on my palate. But the yassa, a light and lemony plate of chicken, onion, and couscous the cook recommends, helps erase my bias. So do a few of the other dishes: The vegetarian delight is a hearty stew of greens reminiscent of some lower-octane Indian foods, and I’m a sucker for Casa Africana’s fried plantains.
But orders like the koklo wings and lamb kan kan kan are chewy and almost painfully blandone friend dubs her salad a “nonevent.” And even though Casa Africana has been open more than three months, the place has the peculiar smell of damp sawdust and, I presume, something even less desirable: I quit eating during my final visit to Casa when I notice the Orkin man stroll in, sprayer in hand. Ummm.
Yin Yang Noodles & Grill, 2323 18th St. NW. (202) 319-1111.
D.C. Casa Africana Restaurant, 2341 18th St. NW. (202) 986-8777.
One reader happens to like eating in Adams Morgan. “I don’t eat anywhere else,” he says, and goes on to call 20K Chinese Gourmet “the best restaurant in Adams Morgan. It beats the hell out of that place you wrote about in Falls Church.” While I don’t agree with either of his assertions, I can see why some people also refer to 20K as the “Dumpling Palace.” The dimpled dumplings (six to an order) are firm and fat, and are filled with a sausagelike mixture that doesn’t beg for sauce.
20K Chinese Gourmet, 1843 Columbia Rd. NW. (202) 483-2709.Brett Anderson
Eatery tips? Hot plates? Send suggestions to email@example.com. Or call (202) 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.