Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ShopHouse Opens Union Station Location, Unveils Peanut Sauce

This is one way to get me to Washington's Union Station. Despite its magnificent architecture, I can't say I make it down to Union Station all that often: Have you seen the lines for Amtrak & BoltBus lately? The dining scene was... so-so, and often (over)crowded. Outside of Chipotle and perhaps Shake Shack, what else was there? All true... until today. That's when one of my personal favorites, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen entered the mix, and Union Station suddenly became "destination-worthy."

It doesn't hurt that it's perfectly located in the West Hall, right by a main exit (the less people I encounter, the better.) It's also within a stone's throw of the aforementioned Chipotle (across the hall) and Shake Shack (directly above.) I arrived late in the day (right around 3) and presumably missed all the fanfare (no balloons, endless stream of managerial types.) There were customers... several, but the line moved super-quickly, indicating the staff knew exactly what they were doing. Warm greetings followed, and the familiar joy of ordering the most unique ingredients in the fast-casual industry (in my humble opinion.)

Dining Area

That meant a bowl of brown rice with Grilled Steak Laab (mixing it up) & season item Butternut Squash with Thai Basil (I like the heat.) I strayed from my usual Spicy Red Curry, and went in a milder direction with ShopHouse's new Peanut Sauce (roasted peanuts, coconut milk, lemongrass, and palm sugar.) It looks almost identical; but was far from overpowering, and had a great consistency. Don't expect to taste a handful of peanuts either... This is a creamy sauce, with just a hint or two of peanut flavor. After adding a garnish of pickled vegetables (the key to their success, so far as I'm concerned) I encountered my only hiccup of the day... No Thai Chilies to top it off. Let's hope I don't go through "spicy-hot" withdrawal: I heard it's not pretty.

Speaking of pretty, is there a better looking plate of food out there? I got nervous when I noticed a bit of char on my steak (which there was lots of, BTW) but it provided an added crispiness that played well with the already crunchy pickled veg. The steak was divine, and I ended up dipping it in the peanut sauce, which seemed to gather in one spot on  my bowl. Packaging for the food was terrific as always; and I love the fact that they give you a lid, even if you're dining in.

Grilled Steak Laab with Butternut Squash/Thai Basil and Peanut Sauce

There was no shortage of customers; and truth be told, it gets a bit crowded when at capacity. Thankfully there's extra seating available inside the Hall, but I imagine most orders are to go (and most customers aren't as people-shy as yours truly.) All stations/tables were immaculate, as one would expect on the first day of business. Based on many prior visits to multiple locations, I don't expect to see anything out of place months/years from now. ShopHouse runs a tight ship, and they clearly subscribe to the saying, "cleanliness is next to Godliness."

As for the food, I make no secret of my affinity for all things ShopHouse. Sure, I miss eggplant (please bring it back!) and I wish they sold jars of their pickled veggies; but outside of that, what's not to love? Having one more outlet and another really good sauce to choose from is just icing on the cake.