During our recent trip back to DC for Thanksgiving, we were determined to check out a few new restaurants. We started with a great lunch at Pappe, then set our eyes on Spoken English at the LINE DC for dinner.
The LINE is a stylish hotel in Adams Morgan that is housed in an old, converted church. Everything about this hotel is pure Instagram eye-candy, including a large brass chandelier, crafted from old church organs that hangs from the ceiling.
We made our way through the lobby in search of Spoken English, one of the three restaurants in the hotel that showcases food from local chef Erik Bruner-Yang (also head chef of one of my faves, Maketto). Upon first hearing about this restaurant, it may turn some people off. It’s definitely not for the foodie faint of heart. The whole place only has room for 12 people, who must all stand the entire meal at communal tables (introverts beware!).
This concept (called tachinomiya) is popular in Japan, but not much is the U.S. The layout is meant to encouraged social interactions with your dining strangers, but Kacy was still skeptical. After walking around DC all day, we weren’t sure how we’d feel about standing up for a meal.
We followed the funky wall paper just off the lobby down a stairwell towards the restaurant. To be honest, I felt that we were going the wrong way up to the point we got to our spots at the table. There was no signage for Spoken English and you pretty much walk through the back of part of the kitchen as the entrance. However, once we got settled and saw the chefs in action, I knew we were in for something special.
Just as the small space and large tables aim to get people to socialize, the menu is designed for sharing. And the intimate nature of the tables made it easy to scope out the best-looking dishes.
Once we got started I found out pretty quickly that, despite our initial skepticism, the restaurant really did drive social interactions and establish a group feeling for the seven of us sharing a table. All it took was one very outgoing individual, named Garry (see below). Within minutes of us being at the table and ordering drinks, he had turned to us and said “Hey! We need to become friends. We want to order the Whole Roast Duck and there are only three of us. If we all share it there will be plenty for five.” We had been eyeing the duck ourselves and deemed it too large for just two diners, so he was speaking our language.
Garry was quite the character and would liven up any table. In no time at all we were swapping feedback on which sakes to order, scheming our joint strategy for the meal, and even sharing life stories. Before the duck would arrive we decided to try a few small plates. We opted for the pickle plate and the fermented Durian curry.
The pickle plate was intended to be eaten throughout the meal with different flavor notes coming from each item. There was white kimchi, a more bitter radicchio, and a slightly spicy pepper option. We tried each one while testing out some sakes our waitress advised us on. We we also big fans of a whiskey and champagne cocktail recommended by our fellow patrons. It was refreshing from the bubbles, but also had some good depth from the whiskey element. Kacy typically hates whiskey, but even she loved it.
Our other dish was a rich and flavorful curry with thin slices of kabocha squash and sunflower seeds. It came with a side of white rice which was perfect for soaking up every last drop. The curry itself was so creamy and complex, I could have eaten a tub of it.
Now on to the main event, the whole roast duck. Being right next to the kitchen, we watched the preparation taking place from the seasoning to the charcoal roasting to plating. The duck was roasted to perfection and sliced to preserve the crispy skin. When the full spread came to out, we immediately knew teaming up to share this dish was the right choice. It was a whole lot of duck.
The duck was accompanied by house-made flour tortillas, duck confit salad, seasoned hoisin sauce, hot sauce, cucumbers, and scallions. The sliced duck was moist and delicious with just enough texture coming from the crispy skin and cucumbers. The hoisin sauce was very rich and flavorful and really took the meal to the next level. The unexpected star of the whole thing was the duck confit salad. I’d skipped it during my first round of tortilla-stuffing, but quickly realized it may have been the tastiest item of the night. The salad had a delicious mustard-based vinaigrette that paired well with the duck confit. The entire dish was one we will not soon forget.
We were sufficiently stuffed from the meal but still found ourselves having one more drink at the table and conversing with our new friends. We had experienced the duck together and bonded over exploring all the restaurant had to offer.
Great meals are about more than the food. They’re about the experience as a whole and creating a memorable experience. I have to hand it to Chef Bruner-Yang for pulling that off in a very unique and refreshing way. He certainly converted these two usually introverted diners.