Next time you can’t decide between a bowl of noodles or a plate of pasta, head to ABC Pony for an uncommon compromise.
D.C. restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang – the visionary owner of Brothers and Sisters, Spoken English, Toki Underground and Maketto – introduced a fusion of Asian and Italian flavors at his newest eatery ABC Pony. At the ground level of a luxury Navy Yard apartment building at 2 I St. SE, the restaurant whips up gourmet meals in an open-concept kitchen behind a bar.
The restaurant is open daily at 7 a.m. serving a full coffee menu, its all-day 12 item menu of hot and cold appetizers and pasta plates and a shortlist of bar snacks like prosciutto, olives and anchovies. The last call for service is at 10 p.m. on weekdays, 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The wait staff sports plain white t-shirts, light wash jeans and aprons, matching the restaurant’s casual atmosphere. VHS tapes sit on shelves alongside bottles of wine, a retro coke machine, old movie posters and cassette tape checkboxes, giving the restaurant an 80s and 90s pop culture theme.
The bar, which seats 14 people, is the focal point of the restaurant and accommodates guests seeking a quick cocktail and snack or a full meal. The rest of the space, which can seat nearly 100 people, is packed with tables of different shapes and designs. Small white marble tables line the windows, and group tables fill the center of the restaurant. All customers are welcomed with a complimentary baguette with olive oil and a glass bottle of water in the middle of the table.
ABC Pony’s short menu consists of four hot appetizers, four cold appetizers and four pasta plates. Servers suggest two plates person or one pasta plate if your appetite is smaller.
The marriage of Asian and Italian flavors was inspired by a scene in the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” depicting a confrontation between Korean shopkeeper and Italian pizza shop owner, Yang told Eater DC.
This combination of Italian and Asian tastes is worked into its menu through sauces, soups and other ingredients. From the hot appetizers, the egg drop soup ($9) mimics an Italian stracciatella soup with pecorino romano cheese. But it still has the recognizable strands of whisked-in egg and is served over Asian ingredients of shaved celery root and jalapeño. The lumpia ($9), another hot appetizer, is modeled after the fried Filipino snack. Its thin cylindrical shape and crispy exterior are consistent with the traditional dish, but they are instead filled with Italian sausage and burrata and served with a spicy tomato sauce.
The most intriguing fusion dish on the menu is the spaghetti with XO sauce ($16). This pasta dish is an explosion of umami flavor that incorporates Italian tastes with Chinese XO sauce, which typically consists of dried shrimp, dried scallops and cured ham cooked with onions, garlic and chili pepper.
The ABC Pony version adds more Italian flavors to the XO sauce, adding anchovy to the dried seafood and substituting cured ham with prosciutto and soppressata trimmings. The spaghetti noodles are made with a denser, more textured quality that tastes similar in texture to ramen noodles. The noodles are tossed with the XO sauce and plated into a nest shape topped with breadcrumbs, thinly sliced basil and fried capers.
The saltiness of the anchovies, pork trimmings and capers mixes well with the umami flavors of dried seafood, heat from the chili, acidity from the lemon breadcrumbs and freshness from the basil. The dense spaghetti noodles hold up to the chunky sauce and the breadcrumb topping adds crunch to contrast the rehydrated seafood pieces.
To cleanse your palate between bites, ABC Pony offers $10 specialty cocktails like the Asian influenced miso milk punch with Japanese whiskey, orange juice and miso syrup or the Italian influenced beet negroni with roasted beet-infused gin, carpano antica, sweet vermouth and campari.
ABC Pony is bringing competition to the D.C. gourmet pasta scene with its inventive dishes and short but intense menu.