Restaurants in The InTowner
The InTowner
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Masterful Masa = Masa 14

When Masa 14 hit the scene about a year ago, crowds jammed in to fill up each table and grab bar seating. If the tempo has slowed a bit, that probably helps out passersby who find the scene inviting, and can now sit down for a meal and one of the bar’s wacky cocktails: a tamarind margarita with 5-spice agave or a Lemon Lager with Dos Equis beer with a lemon-basil syrup and a hint of St. Germaine are just two possibilities.

What makes this restaurant so appealing is its unusual small plates and tapas, a blend of East and West, Asia and Latin America. It turns out that that is not such an unlikely flavor meld. Indeed, some of the dishes are truly brilliant flavor devices. That’s thanks to the two culinary masterminds directing the restaurant’s menu: DC sushi favorite Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro and Mexican restaurant magnet Richard Sandoval of DC’s Zengo. Of course, it helps that chef de cuisine Antonio Burrell contributes his culinary magic with meticulous craftsmanship in the kitchen, turning out such dishes as the shrimp and pork fried rice, tossed with kimchee, bean sprouts, and chiles guajillos — it’s a clever spin on the traditional Asian favorite, spiked with some Latino chilies.

But perhaps the most arresting dish on the menu — at least for this foodie — is Burrell’s Carne Noodles, a stir-fry that brings together such disparate ingredients as snow peas, salty Asian black beans, shredded smoked brisket, and a soft poached egg nestled among the other ingredients. If one could subsist forever on a single dish, this would be my choice. It has it all: eye appeal, texture, and an artful combination of flavors.

With its small-plates menu, Masa 14 more or less invites patrons to overeat — and possibly to overspend a bit as well. It’s hard to skip from one part of the menu to the next without being caught up in considering one of the flatbreads, cooked in a wood-burning oven. The kitchen assembles some odd topping choices, from country ham with goat cheese and cantaloupe to tuna sashimi with wasabi aioli, arugula and capers. While you may have problems sorting out the dominant flavor profiles with some of the options, the clear winner could well be the Peking duck version with duck confit, cotija (a Mexican hard cheese), and an orange-hoisin barbecue sauce.

Another odd yet successful entrée is the squid stuffed with chorizo, adobo, and sushi rice. Topped with a  subtle pico de gallo salsa, this dish probably is more Latino than Asian, yet it works in a setting where the two cuisines may seem at flavor odds. Not eaten enough yet? Consider the very tender 5-spice riblets (you’ll probably wish for two orders) and the light and refreshing seaweed salad. No, it’s not a soulless “feel-good” health food offering; instead, it’s a toss of shredded jicama, hijiki seaweed and a sweet gingery dressing. Perfect notes all around.

Usually a hearty fulsome dish, ceviche — whether white fish, shrimp, or scallops — brims with flavor; Masa’s version of shrimp ceviche lacked heart and soul. Too bad.

But the great successes here trump any falterings. Masa 14 is a casual, hang-out kind of place with funky drinks and classy fare and is set in a brick-walled room boasting a long bar, overhead hanging lights, tables and booths, and three giant TVs by the bar. Drop in, grab a bite or so, and just relax. You can stay late, but don’t come too early: Masa 14 is not open for lunch during the week.

Masa 14 | 1825 14th St., NW; (202) 328-1414. Hours: Mon.-Thu. 5pm-2am.; Fri. to 3am; Sat. & Sun. dining 11am-3pm; Sat., dining resumes at 5pm to 3am & to 2am on Sun. Small plates price range: $5-$13.