Finally, I thought, a place to get decent banh mi in the District. The Southeast Asian version of Chipotle -- how could it be bad? But it was not to be. I ordered the chicken and pork meatball banh mi, with Asian greens (thai basil, cilantro and mint) and chopped peanuts, to go. Raced back to the office clutching my paper bag. And was profoundly disappointed.
The baguette (if you can call it that) was way too bready for banh mi, overwhelming what is supposed to be a delicate balance of flavors. Ditto for the meatballs, which were overspiced for this particular dish. No way the greens and peanuts could fulfil their task of complementing the main filling, if this is what they were up against. And that spicy meatball flavor lingered way too long after the meal, if you know what I mean....
But here's the thing. Those very meatballs get high marks from others, when served in the context of the noodle bowl. Tom Sietsema likes them. The server at Shophouse likes them. And yesterday, when I saw the line for Shophouse spilling on to the sidewalk and asked a couple of people what they liked, the answer was: the pork and chicken noodle bowl.
So, I still want to like Shophouse, and am willing to believe that other dishes will live up to their reputation. It's quite possible that the disappointment of the banh mi -- which seems to be particularly difficult to execute properly -- is not a good reflection on the other offerings. So perhaps, sometime in the not too distant future, Antoinette Ego will write something glowing about them.