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Asia Nora


LittleWing
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So, Thursday night, dinner at Asia Nora - one of the top five meals of my life.

Asia Nora and Chef Haidar Karoum don't get enough props and I think its time they did. The quality of service, the ambience and the absolute deliciousness of everything they do there are unassuming and unpretentious, yet always impressive and, most importantly, delicious.

(full disclosure: my boyfriend works at Asia Nora. But this has nothing to do with him - he wasn't even working on Thursday. Although he is incredible, too.)

Anyway - the food:

A kir royale whilst deciding what to eat. Eventually settled on the five course tasting menu -- Haidar offered to cook for us (off the menu.) Needless to say, we eagerly accepted. Chose a half bottle of 1999 Beaune Greves (Bouchard Pere et fils; Vigne de l'enfant jesus; Premier Cru) (I probably messed up the order in which that should be written). It is named "Vine of the baby Jesus" because it is supposedly as soft and supple as the baby Jesus. It is true to its name. This pinot noir was liquid velvet - so smooth, rich, silky, lush.... yet still elegant and layered – not so soft as to be mushy and weak. Perfectly aged and balanced; subtle notes of olive and black cherry; and a lingering finish that changed shape even after leaving your mouth. Every time I took a sip I had to close my eyes and "mmm mm mmmm MM MM."

Course 1: My dining partner was served beef tenderloin carpaccio, with pickled red onions, thai chilies (from the chef's garden!), and a light dressing with citrus notes. Topped with crispy shredded wontons, which added a nice variation in texture. The beef practically melted on your tongue, and the whole thing was SPICY.

I was brought shrimp in a galangal- coconut curry sauce. Curry had basil, tomatoes, something else (?) shredded on top. Delicious.

Course 2: Heirloom tomato salad, dressed with a ponzu-olive oil vinaigrette. This was by far one of the most beautifully plated dishes I've seen. So simple, yet perfect: a large, round, black matte bowl/plate with four stacked tomato slices. The bottom layer was bright orange, topped with the reddest tomato I’ve ever seen, topped with a two-toned striped green one, topped with a bright yellow slice. The tomatoes were Valencia, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Striped German. I think.

Course 3: Seared Maine diver scallops over a potato puree, edamame, sunburst cherry tomatoes, pickled ramps and a kaffir lime-tomato emulsion. The tops of the scallops were crosshatched and perfectly seared. They tasted so sweet and succulent – as a result of the light seasoning used, the natural flavor of the scallops truly stood out. The sauce was tangy and sweet and the potatoes were buttery, rich, and oh so smooth.

Course 4: Five-spice roasted duck over potato-chive gnocchi with chanterelles, wilted (?) baby arugula (could also have been baby spinach) and a yuzu-butter emulsion. Talk about rich! This was fantastic – probably my favorite savory dish of the evening. The duck breast was sliced into about 6 or 7 small, thin pieces (perfect for eating with chopsticks) and the skin was good & crispy. The five-spice flavor was subtle but noticeable; the gnocchi were more like little flavor-packed dumplings; the chanterelles were buttery deliciousness; and the smattering of sauce was creamy and supple with just the right hint of citrus to cut through the richness.

Course 5: Dessert. The portions are a little larger here than several other tasting menus I’ve had (though not huuuge) so we were definitely ready for dessert. We shared:

1) Lemon verbena citrus crème brulee, dusted with orange sugar. MMMMMM. :biggrin: The light lemony flavor made the crème brulee, which could be another rich dish, much lighter and carefree. (Is that too precious, calling a crème brulee “carefree”? :hmmm: oh well.) Texture was perfectly silky. Couldn’t get enough of this creamy goodness.

2) Spearmint-lime granite. Double MMMMMMM. So refreshing and delightful. The mint and sweet citrus, combined with finely shaved ice, cooled and at the same time perked up my tongue. Made me feel like I was on vacation somewhere at a beach, in a hammock with slight breezes…. Plus, it cleansed my palate so well that I almost forgot I’d eaten an entire meal. So we ordered two more desserts. :blush:

3) Chai panna cotta with a thin little ginger snap. Again, creamy bliss. The panna cotta was thicker than a custard and its texture was uniformly smooooooooth. Chai spices, with cardamom, nutmeg, ginger (?), etc. were warm and inviting. Felt like a cozy blanket on a cold, rainy night (which it was.) Imagine, two whole climate changes in one course. :laugh: (notice my use of these silly smileys gets more and more frequent as I get deeper and deeper into the meal… Hmmm.) (:hmmm:)

4) Grilled banana with pineapple-banana bread and caramel-ginger ice cream. I was not the one who ordered it – this type of dessert was a little heavy for me by now. Though I have to admit I took many many many tastes. It too was heavenly – the caramel-ginger ice cream was simultaneously sweet and spicy, the latter due to the tiny bits of crystallized ginger in the ice cream. The grilled banana was tender and soft and the whole dish was sweet without being sugary.

To top off the meal, we slowly sipped two glasses of the Kurt Darting Eiswein. In a word, luxurious. Silky. Sumptuous. Spectacular. Oops, that’s four words. Well, that dessert wine deserved four thousand more. By far, my favorite that I’ve tasted. I’d go back just for a glass. But, if I did, I know I’d end up ordering the entire menu. I know I’m gushing but really, it was that good. Bravo, bravo, bravo.

Eat.Drink.DC.

...dining in the district...

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.

- Orson Welles

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OK Carolyn, I'll bite--where were the other four?

A few other questions--the tasting menu you had was off-menu--were any of the dishes similar to a la carte menu items? Do you think the chef would prepare something similar for any diner who requested it? And what do you think it might cost for someone not in the biz and/or known to the house?

Thank you for a great report and a vivid description of the wine--but did you find that that wine worked well with all the acid, tomato and citrus front-loaded in those first two courses?

(And a special thank you for caring enough to describe the desserts. I'm partial to dessert and dessert-makers. If all pastry chefs had someone with your descriptive gifts behind them we'd be much better off.)

How would you compare Asia Nora to, say, TenPenh?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I have not been to Asia Nora-yet. But I would expect it to be at least several notches above Ten Penh. For whatever reason neither of her restaurants receive the attention on this and other boards that they deserve.

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I have been to Asia Nora a couple of times and each time I have left disappointed. I tend to find that the descriptions of the dishes sound very tempting, but then find that the execution does not do them justice. I also have been to TenPenh a number of times and prefer it, though I am a bit tired of the menu, which seems never to change.

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Another looooooong post:

OK Carolyn, I'll bite--where were the other four? 

In no particular order, the best meals I've ever had (in DC...):

Nectar (Fall 2003); Citronelle (Summer 2002) (where they also cooked off the menu for us.. all 13 courses :biggrin:); Maestro (Late Fall 2003); Palena (Late Summer 2003) and Asia Nora (last week.)

  A few other questions--the tasting menu you had was off-menu--were any of the dishes similar to a la carte menu items? Do you think the chef would prepare something similar for any diner who requested it? And what do you think it might cost for someone not in the biz and/or known to the house?

Everything that we had (with the exception of the shrimp galangal) is very similar to the items on either the ala carte or tasting menu -- maybe just the accompaniments or the set-ups were different. The tasting menu costs $58 right now for a very generous-sized five courses. The cost changes but is usually within five dollars of the current price.

Thank you for a great report and a vivid description of the wine--but did you find that that wine worked well with all the acid, tomato and citrus front-loaded in those first two courses?

Actually, I ended up drinking my kir royale with the first course, and with most of the second, too. (No matter what I do, I have a low tolerance for alcohol. So I drink slowly, and not too much.) We chose the wine because we wanted a half bottle (see previous parenthetical statement :smile:) and because my dining mate knew how amazing the Beaune Greves tastes. I did taste the wine with the first two courses, though; I wouldn’t necessarily choose that bottle to pair with the food. However, the wine wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the flavors. If it were left completely up to me, and I could have any bottle I wanted with those courses (what a wonderful world that would be! :biggrin: ), I would choose something like the Vie di Romans Sauvignon Blanc, the Heidi Schrock Pinot Blanc or the Alzinger Gruner Veltliner instead. However, the wine worked wonderfully with the scallops (the sauce, although kaffir-lime and tomato, was quite a bit mellower and just a subtle accent to the scallops and potaters) and the duck. Sooooo well with the duck.

I'm partial to dessert and dessert-makers.

Hallelujah and glory glory for desserts and dessert-makers. :biggrin:

How would you compare Asia Nora to, say, TenPenh?

(So many questions! :raz:)

I haven’t been two TenPenh in a couple years, but it’s definitely on my list of places to revisit. (It’s a shame that, as a server, I can’t go out to dinner more often.:sad: ) TenPenh was good. I think their differences lay mostly in mood and approach. Asia Nora’s ambiance and setting is smaller, more intimate and inviting. And romantic, when you want it to be. TenPenh is a self-described “hot new restaurant” (from their website), and “on the power corridor of Washington.” It’s bigger and sleeker -- more along the lines of Zaytinya or Zola. I think it’s just a matter of personal preference or what you’re in the mood for. As far as food, the most obvious disctinction is that Asia Nora is organic and TenPenh isn’t. Otherwise, I happen to like Asia Nora better - I think its cuisine is more inventive and just plain tastier. But again, it all comes down to personal preference. I don't think they are the same and I think each can stand on its own, not just in comparison to the other (as in, Asia Nora is good and TenPenh is not, or vice versa.) Knowwattamean?

Edited by LittleWing (log)

Eat.Drink.DC.

...dining in the district...

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.

- Orson Welles

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How far in advance did you have to make reservations?

Asia Nora is closed for two weeks for its annual summer vacation (starting this Thursday) and reopens Fri the 10th (i think.) Usually you can call the day of, for a reservation on the weekdays, and a couple days in advance for the weekends. However, when they reopen this fall, they are particularly busy. I'd say call a week in advance. Hopefully that will work.

I hope that giving out the info I get from my boyfriend (assistant manager at AN) isn't like insider trading...I don't want to bunk with Martha... :unsure:

:raz: :raz: :raz: :raz:

Eat.Drink.DC.

...dining in the district...

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.

- Orson Welles

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Does anyone have any theories as to why you don't hear a lot about Asia Nora (or Nora, for that matter)?

I have never been there and probably should try it, but the Washingtonian magazine was posed the same question last year. Their explanation was that the food quality was never consistant and therefore left off the recommended list. If I am wrong on this post please feel free to correct me.

Edited for spelling, does your mind just automatically start disintegrating once you get old?

Edited by raisab (log)

Paris is a mood...a longing you didn't know you had, until it was answered.

-An American in Paris

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Does anyone have any theories as to why you don't hear a lot about Asia Nora (or Nora, for that matter)?

I have never been there and probably should try it, but the Washingtonian magazine was posed the same question last year. Their explanation was that the food quality was never consistant and therefore left off the recommended list. If I am wrong on this post please feel free to correct me.

Edited for spelling, does your mind just automatically start disintegrating once you get old?

Actually, now that you say that, I think I remember reading in one of the Post's chats that it's inconsistent and at that price, shouldn't be.

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for me, it's because I was taken there (Nora's) once for my birthday dinner four years ago, and while the cooking was sublime (pot pie as only a gourmand could dream), the service from everyone in the room was so awful--rude, no smiles, pushy, poured the wrong wine to us and then yanked it back off the table with nary an apology, and they left me close to tears on my second-favorite day of the year--and they _knew_ it was special--and so I have not and will not go back. ever. and that's the only restaurant in town about which I would even think that, much less declare it.

if memory is true, I was later told by a friend who had waited tables there that their then-turn time for tables was a half hour less than the standard (1.5 instead of 2?) and that tips were fully pooled, leaving everyone responsible for turning tables and nobody individually responsible for a table. not sure if the same policy still holds, nor if it holds true at Asia Nora's.

Edited by babka (log)
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Asia Nora is a sleeper of a restaurant. And Haidar an unsung hero. I've been five times over the years and never had less than a terrific time through the different changings of the kithen guard. (Even when it had a Wabeckian slant.) Much can been said for Steven Dmato but he has one the the best palettes in town and in my opinion the best wine list in town at Nora's for what is drinking great right now with the changing menu. Many of which can be had at Asia Nora tailored to it's asian theme.

Jarad C. Slipp, One third of ???

He was a sweet and tender hooligan and he swore that he'd never, never do it again. And of course he won't (not until the next time.) -Stephen Patrick Morrissey

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I've got to jump in here: Nora opened while we lived in DC (1976-1980) and it was immediately one of our favorites. She went organic much more recently, obviously. We try to eat at one or the other of her places whenever we are back in DC. (Nora is one of the very few places on the East Cost where I feel comfortable indulging in salmon.)

Asia Nora has also been a favorite; HWOE says that a sauteed rockfish dish he had there a year or so ago was one of his all-time best eats. (Remember that HWOE stands for He Who Only Eats. :biggrin:) We were at Asia Nora for New Year's Eve a couple of years ago, and it was wonderful.

I've been in the business (BOH); I have high standards for food and service. I have been very happy with Nora and Asia Nora. Just because there is not a lot of bruit, doesn't mean there is not quality.

Edited by Suzanne F (log)
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Does anyone have any theories as to why you don't hear a lot about Asia Nora (or Nora, for that matter)?

I have never been there and probably should try it, but the Washingtonian magazine was posed the same question last year. Their explanation was that the food quality was never consistant and therefore left off the recommended list. If I am wrong on this post please feel free to correct me.

A lot of these articles, etc. are about Nora. Just remember that they are two different restaurants. Nora Poullion is the Executive Chef at both, but Haidar Karoum is the chef de cuisine at Asia Nora - he's the man behind the curtain.

The staff is a different staff as well, and whenever I've seen them at Asia Nora they've been friendly and full of smiles, very attentive (without being intrusive), willing to give you as long as you'd like without rushing you, and (IF you call ahead of time) will make you a big fortune cookie with whatever message you want for a special occasion.

I don't neccessarily think the articles about Nora are right - but regardless, they (as well as the Post chat and babka's dinner) are about Nora, not Asia Nora.

And for the record, I agree with Jared. :huh:

:biggrin::biggrin::biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:

Eat.Drink.DC.

...dining in the district...

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.

- Orson Welles

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I've got to jump in here: Nora opened while we lived in DC (1976-1980) and it was immediately one of our favorites. She went organic much more recently, obviously. We try to eat at one or the other of her places whenever we are back in DC. (Nora is one of the very few places on the East Cost where I feel comfortable indulging in salmon.)

Oh, and Nora's was the first certified organic restaurant in the country, and it was organic when it first opened in 1979 :biggrin:

However, while Asia Nora is not certified organic, it is mostly organic (good salmon there, too :smile:)

edited for bad spelling. im no good at typing fast....

Edited by LittleWing (log)

Eat.Drink.DC.

...dining in the district...

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.

- Orson Welles

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  • 2 months later...

Haidar Karoum is one of the most underrated chefs in Washington – it isn’t so much that he’s underrated, he’s not rated – and he should be. Highly.

During a multi-course meal at Asia Nora this week (the chef’s tasting menu is $58, and is the best way to order here), I was impressed by some plates, dazzled by others. Haidar’s Crispy Honshimenji Mushroom & Green Bean Tempura qualifies as legitimate food porn. I sat there, bite-by-bite, getting drawn in more-and-more with each passing moment, and wondering to myself why anyone else around here can’t pull off a tempura this good. It’s shake-your-head-in-disbelief good, and yet it's just a simple tempura of green beans and mushrooms. And the Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops with Sake-Yuzu Emulsion were as good as any scallops I’ve had in a long time. You know, I get so sick of ordering “day boat” or “diver” scallops, and seeing these little shriveled water-chestnut things showing up on the plate. These are amazing scallops. And the sauce! And the damned duck! Seared Duck Breast with Mirin Glazed Turnips & Crispy Autumn Roll was perfectly executed strips of breast meat, and like all the other dishes, it contained about a billion ingredients yet came off as almost simplistic because it was so clean and balanced (it is rare for a chef to use so many ingredients and pull off the illusion of lightness and simplicity).

And in case you hadn’t heard, there’s a Starr in town. Arthur has been tending bar at Asia Nora for three years now, and he is at once polished, knowledgeable and utterly without pretense despite the hilariously unfortunate robe he must wear. He knows the wines, he knows the menu and he knows how to mix a drink. When you go, try the Henri Gouges Bourgogne, a rare, declassified Pinot Blanc from Gouge’s Les Perrières vineyard in Nuits-Saint-Georges, for $42. Steven Damato, a co-owner with Nora Pouillon, knows and respects wine, and prefers to serve them from bottle - he offers only one single white (a Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine), and one single red (a Vaqueyras), by the glass, but they are both serious wines and well-worth ordering.

Remember, at Asia Nora most things are organic: I saw Arthur pour a simple glass of tomato juice for a young diner at one of the tables, and it was the expensive, organic version - not something you'd find at almost any other restaurant.

There are some drawbacks to Asia Nora: it is expensive, and the five-seat bar serves mainly as a holding tank for diners waiting for their tables, but if you go on a night when Arthur is working, and turn yourself over to the talented hands of Haidar Karoum, you’ll experience a great meal with first-rate service at one of the most overlooked restaurants in all of Washington.

Cheers,

Rocks.

And don't miss the warm chocolate five-spice cake for dessert.

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Added bonus, he's a local yokel - grew up right in town. It's so nice having these local folks - Karoum, Wabeck, Krinn, who've returned to town to help make it a great eating spot. Go DC! And yes, go eat at Asia Nora.

Emily Kaiser

www.emilykaiser.com

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  • 4 months later...

Has anybody been to Restaurant Nora (not Asia Nora-- sorry, I didn't want to start a new thread) lately? I've never tried it but it's been highly recommended to me by several people. My aunt and uncle are coming to town and want me to pick out a restaurant-- their treat :biggrin:

Is Nora a good choice?

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