Friday, September 26, 2014

Native Foods Café Preview

Native Foods Café has has been holding a few food preview days over the past week. Instead of spending $$$ on traditional marketing and commercials, they decided to host a few nights of simulated service (with real food) with the benefits of training staff and creating word of mouth. I had a chance to visit the Dupont location last night and after a year of speculation, I'm happy to say it seems to have been worth the wait. (Also, I'm heretofore banishing the term "soft opening," when referring to restaurants, because gross.)

The restaurant is all vegan and is definitely in the fast casual category. Customers queue and order at the register. You get a number card and can basically sit wherever there is a seat available. There is no table service, although the staff delivers your food (no listening for your order number) and they offer to do things like refill your drinks and whatnot. Very cool. The Dupont restaurant has seating on the first floor as well as a pretty large below-grade level. Up to 160 people can sit inside, and up to 14 seats are allowed on the patio facing 18th Street.

The menu is extensive, with about 50 dishes total including appetizers, salads, bowls, what they call "handholds" (sandwiches, tacos, wraps, etc.), desserts, and kid-sized meals. They have crazy-good lemonades and other rotating drinks. Native Foods will also serve alcohol, but were not during this preview. Somehow, all the beers are $4, what? Beers include Champion Killer Kolsch, Port City Optimal Wit, and Duclaw Euforia Brown Ale, among others. There's wine, too.

I can't speak for the whole menu because, unfortunately, I was not allowed to order one of each dish, and it got a little weird when I started walking around checking out everyone else's food as they ate. Kidding. ANYWAY -- I ordered:

Japanese Sesame Crusted Chicken Bites: Definitely appetizer/snack size. The pickled vegetables make this dish. Must like sesame seeds.

Rockin' Moroccan Bowl:  Order this if you're really, really hungry or want enough food to take home for dinner later. It's good, really good. But, I mean, it's just a whole lot of good. Marinated tofu & grilled root vegetables FTW. It's gluten free like a lot of dishes on the menu.

Native Fries: Basically these are shoestring French fries. For some reason I froze like Ralphie Parker on Santa's lap when I was ordering, because I almost always get sweet potato fries if available, which they were. Whenever sweet potato fries are on the menu, ordering regular french fries is like asking Santa for a football: BASIC.

Apple Cake: This was like a marriage between a slice of regular yellow cake and a slice of apple pie. Pretty good, but keep in mind these aren't hot out of the oven. All of the desserts are ready-to-eat style and live prepackaged in a deli case until you order it. Still, it was tasty, and tart.

Like Woodlands Vegan Bistro and Elizabeth's Gone Raw, Native Foods is a welcome all-vegan addition to the DC food scene. Unlike those two however, Native Foods will be open downtown, and will be set up to serve hundreds of people for lunch each weekday, quickly. No more settling for the one vegan dish on the menu, we can order anything, everything. This place is going to rake. 

The Dupont Native Foods is located at 1150 Connecticut Ave NW (18th St side). It will open on September 30. The Penn Quarter/Market Square restaurant is located at 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW. It will open on October 15. The operating hours of each store will be 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM daily.