Close observers of the D.C. dining scene have spotted something new on their Instagram feeds: small dumplings that swap dough for crispy fried chicken skin. Those dumplings are just one of the intriguing dishes on the menu at Spoken English, a new restaurant from Erik Bruner-Yang in the Line Hotel.
Chicken dumplings and skewers weren't what most fans of the chef, who made his name with local favorites Toki Underground and Maketto, were expecting at Spoken English. The chef had initially announced that the restaurant would offer a high-end kaiseki experience. But, at the eleventh hour, Bruner-Yang switched gears and opened a tachinomiya, a popular style of bar from Japan where snacks and drinks are served to guests standing up.
The intimate space has room for 12 to 16 standing diners, with ample sight lines into the kitchen where Bruner-Yang and his chefs, James Wozniuk and Matt Crowley, prepare a menu that intentionally doesn't draw on just one culinary tradition. As Bruner-Yang tells Eater D.C., “I think at this point, we've really moved away from trying to feel like we're the authenticators of traditional food and we just have our own style. There are snippets of everything here. . . . But it's more our version of it.”
That version includes a section of the menu dedicated to kushiyaki or grilled Japanese skewers. There's Wagyu short rib with anchovy and fresh wasabi, and a play on grilled cheese that comes in the form of a melting wedge of Camembert skewered and served with fermented honey, smoked olive oil and toast. The small-plates section jumps from fermented durian curry with spaghetti squash to those chicken-skin dumplings.
For anyone willing to stand up through an entire meal, there's a whole roast duck to share that comes with flour tortillas and a salad made with duck confit. There's also plenty of sake, selected by Colin Sugalski, who is working to source bottles from boutique breweries in Japan. And for those looking to try something else, there's a Japanese rice lager.
Diners hoping to sit down after a couple of drinks can head to one of the other dining spots in the hotel, including another from Bruner-Yang called Brothers and Sisters, which serves a beef short rib burger with Mornay sauce and an octopus hot dog. There's also A Rake's Progress, James Beard Award winner Spike Gjerde's place that celebrates ingredients from the mid-Atlantic.
No matter where you eat, you can swing back to Spoken English for one of Pichet Ong's desserts. The options—Black, with cherry blossom, tapioca and black lime, and Silver, with eggplant, miso and fennel—are intentionally left to your imagination. In 2018, that's something we could all use more of.
Devra Ferst is a food writer, editor and cooking teacher based in Brooklyn. She cares much more about babka than any one woman should. Follow her on Instagram at @dferst.
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