Image: Cauliflower and Scallop Curry
Last Updated: 6/5/2020
Current Status: Pom Pom has transformed itself into Seco Wine, selling bottles, pantry items and some prepared foods. You can either do pick-up or delivery (for free). The windows of operation are Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM. You can get prepared theme packages or even get sommelier consultation to build a pack. Owner Carlie Steiner announced the restaurant is not coming back. While the handful of other announced closings felt like mere harbingers, this closing feels like the beginning of many similarly situated restaurants. It will be missed.
Before Times Review:
First Visit: February 2020
Pom Pom manages to both upend and match expectations. Restaurateur Carlie Steiner (Himitsu, Dos Mamis) hired Amanda Moll away from Doi Moi. Moll was Sous Chef to Johanna Hellrigl when they gave that place a needed infusion of energy and sharpness. With Pom Pom, Moll and Steiner have produced a gem in the former Himitsu space meeting the expectations such reputations create. They have upended those expectations by going in a new direction with the menu that carries little forward from either Doi Moi or Himitsu. We recommend you go now before people realize just how good it is.
The menu is divided up into three columns which correspond to choices of small, medium, or large shared plates. The columns also roughly correspond to crudo variations, first course, or main course options. The Hamachi are two-bite slabs stacked with lebna, whole pomegranate seeds and zhug preserved lemon. It is crunch, sweet, salty, tangy and really good as each bite slightly varies depending on what makes it onto the fork. The tuna tartare is served on large tortilla chips and has some spice. One early claimant to the “signature dish” title is the Tahdig But Peruvian from the middle column. It is a large cup of Peruvian green rice cooked to a crispy Persian-style bottom, flipped over and served with a creamy sauce and pickled pappadews. The other claimant may be the Pynk Noodles of beet-tinged flat noodles in a goat cheese sauce with apples. If we had a quibble it was that the apples needed a bit more punch to counter the cream. For the last column, the Washingtonian noted, the duck is a big dish, at a big price and worth it. Served with jasmine rice and “pho” jus it hits many a good note. Our favorite dish was the scallops over curry sauce with forbidden rice and a cauliflower steak. It also adds big pieces of shitake mushrooms and can be done as a vegan dish. On the first visit we sampled over half the menu and the group agreed that there was not a dud in the bunch. Note that the menu often changes.
Beverages are under the care of Steiner, with an emphasis on the word care. She has taken the effort to construct a wine list completely from women producers (something she started doing at Himitsu). For a modest price, the team will do wine pairings for each dish and sequence accordingly. There are some delights in the mix including a skin-contact sparkling. Cocktails are also available with the same sourcing theme. There is no dessert served (other than Pom Pom stamped sweethearts that come with the check), but there is sherry!
Another thing that both upends and meets expectations is Steiner’s goal of creating a welcoming place for the various communities that intersect at Pom Pom. Steiner told WCP, “Owning a restaurant or being an executive chef of a restaurant is about a lot more than food today.” And as she told DCist, “It’s important that we have spaces that aren’t necessarily identified as queer that are queer-friendly and just fucking safe for humans to be in.” None of this is surprising to those familiar with her work at Himitsu, but it is still uncommon within the larger industry. As is seeing an all-women staffed kitchen.
The cumulative effect is an inviting place with only 24 or so seats (with additional ones outside weather permitting), decorated with the colorful “whimsy” of pom poms that upends expectations in many ways. It also meets one expectation many will have: they make delicious food. We think it is worth making a trip to Petworth to take it in.
Other Guidance: It is neighborhood nice, meaning no need to dress up, but some might be. GF and vegans can do well. Pescatarians can do very well.
Washington Post: Paraphrasing Tom’s 2.0 review: “Before I grade this new restaurant let me tell you that I’m comparing it to one of the best restaurants in America in the last ten years and for some reason this new place didn’t quite measure up.” That said it was generally positive with caveats – many of which have been addressed as the opening kinks got worked out. He was also positive in his First Bite. Totally unrelated, I was going over Tom’s 20th anniversary dining guide as I was doing the Washingtonian Top 100 deep dive, but I kept thinking of how great Phyllis Richman was. Strange.
Washingtonian: Also a good semi-review (“Pom Pom feels like an antidote to pessimistic times”) with minor nits. Didn’t make the Top 100 in 2020, but we expect a decent ranking next year.
DonRockwell.com – no thread yet
Inside Hook: One of the Best New Restaurants of 2019.