Mon 1 Aug 2011
We have to hand it to Prince of Petworth. There we were, on our way to take a sneak peek at Rogue 24 in Blagden Alley off of 9th Street, NW, and we get an email from a friend pointing us to PoP’s post announcing the opening of SUNdeVICH in a nearby-but-different alley off of 9th Street, NW. We had no idea they were even close to opening, but thanks to PoP we were able to drop in just as SUNdeVICH opened its doors. We went in anticipating bold flavors, and we weren’t disappointed.
Of course, first we had to find the place. Walking up to N Street from Rogue 24, we could see the alley we were looking for through a parking lot, but to get there we had to head out to 9th and then cut back in. It being their first day, SUNdeVICH didn’t even have a sign in the window yet. We might still be wandering around the alley if we hadn’t seen someone enter the corner garage through a sliding glass door. This was the place!
We had read about their intention to provide “a wide range of bold flavors,” representing cuisines from across the globe, which immediately sets them up to encounter two potentially fatal challenges: a “jack of all trades, master of none” approach that sacrifices expertise for diversity of flavors; and a menu so scattered that it becomes a minefield of bad combinations. So we decided to try a sandwich and a side to check out the flavors – both on their own and in tandem. Two gallon-sized containers of pickles at the cash register caught our eye, so we had them throw in a whole pickle to round out the meal. What we found was surprising.
Will we be going back to get our passports stamped with other flavors soon? Find out after the jump.
SUNdeVICH is the work of Ali Bagheri and Daniel O’Brien, the guys behind Seasonal Pantry. Got a taste for ice creams made from local ingredients? They’ve got you covered with a club that offers two pints a week throughout the month of August. Want to stock up on handmade pastas and charcuterie? Their brick-and-mortar shop is right around the corner on 9th Street for your convenience. And if you’re up for a supper club experience in the shop with a dozen or so strangers…you’re going to have to wait. The next three dinners (August 11, 12 and 13) are completely sold out – no doubt Tom Sietsema’s positive review in the Post had something to do with that.
Each sandwich at SUNdeVICH (figured out where the name came from yet?) is named after an international city whose culture it reflects. The Buenos Aires features skirt steak and chimichurri. The Istanbul is a riff on a beef-and-lamb kebab that includes sumac onions and a yogurt spread. The Berlin is a bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard. The only common thread is the baguette, made to SUNdeVICH’s special order by a local bakery to provide a bit more chew than your average sandwich roll.
Bagheri and O’Brien’s commitment to fresh and handcrafted ingredients – the hallmarks of Seasonal Pantry – carries through to the sandwich shop. On the carryout sheet, they promise that “All menu items are created from scratch using the best possible ingredients with absolutely no additives or preservatives.” Our experience certainly reinforced that claim to us; veggies were crisp and greens were fresh and vibrant.
We tried the Cairo, an intriguing vegetarian combination of hummus, pickled vegetables, cucumber, walnuts and herbs. While we can’t speak to the authenticity of this dish in Egyptian culture, the combination of flavors worked well. The hummus was creamy with just enough of a grainy texture to make it more substantial than a mere spread. The brined vegetables brought plenty of acidity, and the bitterness of the herbs was a welcome contrast. The crunch of the walnuts and the cucumber fought valiantly against the chew of the baguette, but there was just too much bread. In fact, that’s our biggest complaint about the sandwich since everything else came together nicely.
The lentil salad pictured before the jump has already earned a place as a new favorite. Carrots, peppers, peas and scallions all made an appearance, and the cumin vinaigrette that was poured over our portion when we bought it added a flavor that was at once savory and tangy. We were impressed by their attention to detail…leaving the dressing off until the last minute is a great way to keep the flavors sharp while sending a message that the customer matters. Sadly, the pickle left a lot to be desired, as it lacked crunch and the flavor was overpoweringly salty at the expense of a more well-rounded flavor.
It may not have been a scientific test, but our pairing of sandwich and side worked well together. They both brought Mediterranean flavors (citrus and herbs) to the table and they didn’t clash in our tasting. Would it have been the same result if we had paired more disparate items, say the caprese-inspired Capri with the roasted sweet potatoes? Hard to say, though it seems like any obvious clashes can be avoided with a little bit of forethought.
SUNdeVICH has a few tables for those who want to stay and eat, with the largest of the bunch just inside the door and decked out with bar stools (it’s the one in the photo over at PoP). As is to be expected, they’re still working some things out – prices have gone up $1 per sandwich since our visit – but they’re definitely starting to build a following within the neighborhood. They’re open Monday through Saturday from noon to 9 PM, providing a welcome new option for lunch or dinner.
One of their goals is to “offer a wide range of flavors, so diners can visit us multiple times a week…” If we lived a bit closer, we’d probably take them up on that offer. While we may not be racking up Frequent Flyer miles to globtrot with SUNdeVICH daily, we could easily see ourselves heading back soon to try the Athens or the Madrid.