All words: Brittany Martin
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Room 11 was already the cutest, most perfect little neighborhood bar. Now they are also the cutest, most perfect little neighborhood cafe and coffee-shop as well. They have expanded to almost double the size and are opening the new half every morning for coffee, pastries, and lunches which at least equal the dinner menu we have all come to love, and then keeping it open through the evening serving drinks that focus on amari and vermouths. In other words, it’s the most perfect place ever.
I thought for a moment if I would really be the right person to write our first taste test of the new menu in the new space. I’m already totally on board for Room 11 and, in disclosure, have a close personal relationship with a member of the staff, as well as being friendly with most of the employees.
Given the skepticism that conflict statement probably just inspired, perhaps I will start with a criticism and, in so doing, gain back your trust in this as an impartial review? The salad which arrived alongside of our sandwich was terribly salty, which was particularly disappointing as bit of salad would have been a really enjoyable contrast to the rich ham-and-cheese sandwich it accompanied but, unfortunately was just not very palatable.
The sandwich itself, however, inspired no complaints. The pork was smoky and flavorful, paired with dry, sharp Swiss raclette cheese, and sweetened by crisp apple slices and soft caramelized onions, with just a bit of tangy dijon mustard. When I am not in pro-food-taster mode, onions and ham both land fairly high on the list of foods I do not love, so I knew I was challenging myself a tiny bit with this sandwich. Nonetheless, it ended up being something I would happily order again.
However, if I wanted a pork dish off the lunch menu, I would sooner go for the ma po tofu noodle salad. While it is not mentioned on the menu board, vegetarians should note that the dish is topped with a generous portion of ground pork, referencing the traditional preparation of Chinese ma po tofu. That sits atop a pile of fresh-tasting noodles and crispy pan-roasted brussels sprouts, and a few chunks of tofu. The dish succeeds by creating great contrasts: the Asian-inspired spices with the sweet spouts, soft, slippery noodles with more toothsome bites of pickled carrot and sweet potato.
We started our meal with a bowl of lentil soup, hearty and warming on a cold day, rich and creamy with yogurt. A zip of preserved lemon cuts through the density with acid and brightness that played together wonderfully.
Recommending Room 11 too highly always leaves me feeling torn. It’s so small and adorable, I couldn’t bear to see it get too crowded and overrun — but, nonetheless, it is my default answer for the inevitable “What’s your favorite bar in D.C.?” questions. Now, at twice the size, I feel a little more confident singing the place’s praises and look forward to being there from morning to night without ever having to leave.