Steve Ells took a basic idea and made it into one of the fastest-growing fast food chains in the world. Now he’s testing out the same idea but a different cuisine with the opening of the first (of hopefully one day) hundreds of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen (which I’ll refer to from here on out as SSAK because really it’s just a ridiculously long name to say and type). I stopped by SSAK last week on my way home and grabbed it to-go to eat at home after my 20 minute ride on the bus.
Although I was tempted by the banh mi, I followed the lead of Tom Sietsema and nearly every other person in line, by ordering a bowl. I selected chicken satay, brown rice, green beans, mild green curry sauce and green papaya slaw, topped with crispy garlic and crushed peanuts. The ordering process worked essentially like Chipotle- order your base, vegetable, sauce, etc. Service wasn’t as speedy, not only due to customers’ unfamiliarity to the offerings, but also an added wait due to the green beans needing to be cooked. I also splurged and ordered the jasmine tea ginger ale.
After enduring 20 minutes on the bus with the delicious smells of my meal wafting through the paper bag, I finally made it home to dig in. I had been warned that SSAK doesn’t take the spices lightly, but it still took me by surprise. I eat authentic Indian and Pakistan food frequently and found the spice of this meal to be right up there.
The ginger ale was a great help in alleviating some of the spice, but next time I may ask them to go light on the curry sauce.
On my second trip to SSAK, I went for the banh mi with the chicken & pork meatballs, spicy mayo, topped with green papaya slaw and herbs. The bread needs to be improved for the popularity of this item to rise (on this visit once again, most people were ordering the bowls), but the meatballs were juicy and flavorful while the mayo and slaw added just enough spice. Next time I’ll combine the best aspects of my two visits by ordering a bowl with meatballs.
On Sunday, C and I visited the Shophouse. As we entered, I took a moment to glance at what everyone else was having to get a feel for the kind of food and what I would like. My eyes are fairly good at picking out what’s good from what’s not, and where they fail my nose picks up the rest.
In the line, I read over the options. It was similar to Chipotle, you pick your base (rice, noodles or bread), your meat, a vegetable and the sauce. At the end, you top it off with a kind of topping, similar to a salsa. The vegetables were more complicated than shredded lettuce or fajita mixings, consisting of choices like mixed corn, Chinese broccoli and green beans. Each was cooked and packed with spices.
I could tell from other people’s orders that I should skip the bread. It was clearly too thick and would rob from the taste of the meal. So I went with the brown rice instead. I found out to my delight that I could go half and half on the meat and vegetables (which maximized what I was trying). So I went with half grilled chicken and half chicken and pork meatballs, which were probably the least healthy choice of all the meats. For vegetables, I went half corn and half broccoli, and topped it off with the green curry sauce. For the final toppings, I selected the first three, which included cilantro and a kind of carrot and pickled radish slaw.
The meatballs were delicious, savory, sweet and spicy rolled into one. I balanced the unhealthiness against the leanness of the chicken pieces which melded well with the green curry. The vegetables and meat worked wonders together, the slaw giving a satisfying crunch the mixed with the meat’s softness. No two bites were quite alike.
One has to remember to stir their rice bowl before diving in, or else they’ll be eating nothing but rice at the bottom. Especially if they went with the dry and unflattering brown rice. Try as I might, I wish I had gotten the jasmine rice or tried the rice noodles instead. I also found myself wishing for a salad option.
Steve Ells has a winner with the design as long as he fits the issues with the bread and the brown rice. The bread could be thinner and the brown rice more moist, but ShopHouse proved to be a satisfying alternative to the delicious Chipotle.
ShopHouse is located at 1516 Connecticut Ave NW. Check out their menu.