At Spoken English, guests standing at two long dining tables can watch chefs prepare their Japanese small plates from feet away.
Tucked behind Brothers and Sisters on the first floor of the LINE Hotel DC at 1770 Euclid St. NW, Spoken English – one of four restaurants in the hotel – is a small Japanese eatery that draws inspiration from tachinomiya, or standing bars. A kitchen with gray marble prep tables and a stainless steel stove stand to the left of the restaurant, while two rectangular tables for guests to stand are placed at the right.
On the tables, bright yellow coasters and chopsticks printed with the pop art style Spoken English logo are arranged next to the menus. The ceiling is decorated with clusters of golden metal rods, and three windows at the back of the room are plastered with cartoon images depicting a woman’s legs pointed up in the air, an orange fish and a sushi roll with a child in the middle.
Spoken English is open from 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday. If you’re looking to go, make a reservation in advance because the restaurant only has room for about 12 guests.
The menu offers a brief selection of kushiyaki – a category of skewered and grilled Japanese snacks – and several small plates like roasted cauliflower ($7) and squash curry ($13). You can also opt for two large dishes – chicken yakitori ($35) and the whole roast duck ($98) – which are meant to be shared, in addition to dessert. In tachinomiya style, there is also a large selection of sake, cocktails, beer and wine.
You can choose from about a dozen small dishes that balance both meat and vegetarian options. Start with kushiyaki bites like the chicken heart with lime ($4) or the charred Green Hill Camembert cheese ($8) served with fermented honey and olive oil on toast for another tasty option.
The roasted cauliflower ($7) with peanut dukkah, sambal and tofu and the squash curry ($13) with fermented durian and coconut are both vegetarian dishes that show off the restaurant’s Japanese flavors.
My eyes landed on the chicken skin dumpling ($10), which replaces the outer dough of a dumpling with chicken skin. I had to try it. The server presented a single dumpling, slightly smaller than a fist, with a crisp exterior. To prepare the dish, raw chicken skin is cupped around a filling of seasoned rice with mushroom, sausage and dried shrimp. The top of the skin is twisted closed and the dumpling is deep-fried.
Served with chili-vinegar for dipping, the dumpling’s brittle exterior reminded me of a chicken wing. The soft filling – rice, sausage and umami – complemented the fried chicken skin and gave every bite a concentrated mix of savory and hot flavors.
The chicken skin dumpling is a small plate item, but if you’re dining with a group, the whole roast duck ($98) is a popular option for sharing. If you’re willing to wait 45 minutes for the chef to prepare the bird, you’ll be rewarded with a golden brown duck served with duck fat tortillas, duck confit salad, seasoned hoisin, hot sauce, cucumber and scallion.
Aside from the small plates, Spoken English’s drink menu is a reason to visit in itself. The sake menu ranges from $8 to $12 per glass with rich options like the kokuryu black dragon ($12) or the sweet yaegaki nigori ($8). The restaurant’s cocktail menu features signature drinks like the “I Am Very Hot & Sexy” tequila drink ($14) with lemon and grapefruit and the “Toki Highball” ($11) whiskey soda.
If you want to feel like you’re in an exclusive tasting-menu restaurant without the hefty price tags and overly formal atmosphere, Spoken English is your best bet.