A sub-par evening at Meiwah

Meiwah
1200 New Hampshire Ave.
(202) 833-2888
www.meiwahrestaurant.com

Meiwah’s hard to miss. As you walk to The Aston, the Chinese letters in neon lights are hard to ignore, but try your best. D.C. is known for its lack of good Chinese food, and places like Meiwah are the reason why. From the food to the d?cor and even the utensils and drinks, Meiwah is a surprisingly nontraditional Chinese restaurant in too many ways.

The spring rolls are a nice start. With two to split with your dining partner, the flaky rolls are a treat. They are larger than you might expect but don’t contain too much filling. Start with the vegetarian style, because the pork in the regular rolls tastes more like mystery meat and will distract you from the better-tasting vegetables.

If you want to try something new, check out the huge tofu menu. Or if you want to stick with an old standard, the General Tso’s chicken tastes like your favorite take-out Chinese. When you order, tell your server whether you want it mild or hot, but beware – the mild is extremely sweet. The chicken is first fried and then dipped in the sauce, which has a few red peppers left in for flavor. This dish will satisfy your appetite if you can get past its bed of shredded lettuce and the strangely superfluous maraschino cherry on top.

The twice-cooked duck is an interesting idea but the final product doesn’t live up to its name. It is supposedly cooked twice using two separate techniques and then served with a Chinese sauce, but you may think the cook got a little tired and forgot that second bake. In the menu, this choice is accompanied by a little pepper symbol promising heat. However, request that it be prepared extremely hot; otherwise you’ll be disappointed.

But the oddest thing about Meiwah is the utensils. When diners sit down, they are given a fork and knife. Where are the chopsticks? It seems absurd to have to specially ask for chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant. Maybe the ownership is sick of looking at us struggle with them or is trying to save us the shame of asking for real utensils, but come on. If you’re going for authenticity, chopsticks are essential.

The illustrated drink menu will make you feel like you are ordering beachside, not in a Chinese restaurant. The Mai-tai and Sex on the Beach drinks seem extremely out of place. The Flaming Volcano, a drink for a couple to share, is cute, but since when are fruity drinks with little umbrellas a staple at Chinese restaurants? Meiwah’s extreme stock of rum is appreciated by most but understood by few.

Meiwah does have a few selling points. The wait staff is timely and attentive (but not overzealous) and has a good amount of knowledge about the food. Your server will gladly agree to specialize your order to your liking, even if the chefs themselves ignore your request.

Most appealing is the atmosphere. One entire wall in the dining room consists of windows, so the lights of New Hampshire Ave. light up the restaurant. The modern look and open second floor are unexpected but very much appreciated on busy nights. Yes, there are busy nights. A steady after-work crowd dines at Meiwah, and the restaurant is happy to accommodate large parties.

If you happen to want some Chinese food and a fruity drink, Meiwah is your place. Ask for the chopsticks and extra rice and you can elevate your meal to the level it should be, but the bland food can’t be avoided. If you are looking for good Chinese food, you could try Meiwah, but then you will still have to keep looking.

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