MEIWAH
Meiwah? Mais, Oui!
[from April 2000 issue]




Of all the new restaurants in town--and there are plenty--Meiwah has received its fair share of on-the-street buzz. Much of that interest derives from its ownership and kitchen staff, both from Dupont Circle's much-touted City Lights of China. Larry La, who had been absent from that place for awhile, has come back in force with his splashy new restaurant on New Hampshire and M. That it resembles a cross between Tara Thai and elegant Yanu may be no accident, for management knows that part of what sells a restaurant is atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere.

Location, location, location also helps, and if anything, La's got a good deal with his large corner place directly across the street from PARKING, an outdoor lot with plenty of room. Try that in Dupont Circle, where you might circle the block 46 times before finding a space to park.

Of course, food--well, good food--is the third part of what makes restaurants succeed or fail. Judging by our lavish meal recently, a lunchtime eating binge of six courses, the food should have mass appeal to its American audience. The staff obviously concluded that these two Western women were bent of self-destruction, because no sensible soul eats that much midday.

Well, we did, with a few leftovers. And the most outstanding dish, worth the price of the meal (which was high) was the kitchen's utterly sublime Shanghai bok choy with Chinese black mushrooms. These are baby bok choy, hence, are sweet and very tender. Blanched, probably stir-fried with a black bean sauce and garlic, and served with tender black mushrooms, the bok choy make a perfect accompaniment for any meat-based entrée, or even several meat-based main dishes, as we had.

Lamb lovers will celebrate their favorite meat with the restaurant's lusty, though not particularly fiery, Mongolian lamb stirred and tossed with scallions and garlic in a rich brown sauce. If you spot tiny flecks of red, these are minced red peppers, not chilies, which would have enlivened the dish a hundredfold.

The least worthy dish was the Peking duck, which odds are, the kitchen only oven-roasted without the necessary preamble of blowing the skin away from the meat, then air-drying the duck for several hours to dry out the skin before the final roasting. Served at the table with its traditional flourish, the duck underwent its complex disjointing just fine, but the skin never seemed crispy enough to resemble outstanding Peking ducks; the skin must be really crispy to make it seductive in its pancake-and-hoisin-sauce wrap.

What else could we have possibly eaten? Well, as it happens, we started with the restaurant's cold sesame noodles (more sesame sauce, please), crispy Cornish hen (an unusual appetizer of a whole small bird--disjointed for easy eating--served with a dipping sauce), and a lackluster crabmeat asparagus soup.

The menu bears further exploration, for management promises an introduction to some of China's finest regional dishes. However, many dishes sound Cantonese--which is no bad thing, after all, since that region's cooking is superb--and other dishes sound too familiar. Like, can you eat another order of General Tso's chicken or orange beef? Think, instead, of Tinkling Bells Pork or Tofu Curl, or maybe the steamed whole fish cooked Cantonese style--all are chef's specials and may be really inventive and good. But whatever else you order, include the bok choy for a Lucullan feast.

Meiwah, 1200 New Hampshire Ave.; tel., 833-2888. Hours for lunch & dinner: Mon.-Thu., 11:30am-10:30pm & Fri. to 11pm; dinner only, Sat., Noon-11pm & Sun., Noon-10:30pm. Entrées, $10.95 to $25.95. Major credit cards accepted.


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