Friday, October 20, 2017

Naf Naf Grill Food Review

Chicken Shawarma Pita & Naf Fries

After a slew of recent closings (Bonfire, Cafe Carvy, Pizza Studio, Red Robin Burger Works, et al.) 19th Street's culinary scene is finally beginning to show signs of a resurgence. This week, Bold Bite Market is taking over for the aforementioned Red Robin Burger Works at 1028 19th Street, NW and Naf Naf Grill is replacing Protein Bar, across the street at 1875 K Street. The latter opened Wednesday, with free pitas and long lines. After a media preview snafu, I stopped by yesterday to see if the national chain, specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine was worth a second try. In some ways, yes. In some ways... well, there's always room for improvement.

In terms of appearance, Naf Naf Grill scores big; although I wish there was an "order here" sign pointing to the left, when you walk in. I was able to figure it out after a second or two, but I noticed no less than three other people who walked in later, and went the wrong way. As with most fast casual restaurants, there's an assembly line with a bright, clear and concise menu overhead. I received a warm & inviting greeting from the first guy, followed by a not-so-enthusiastic grunt from the next employee. There were too many workers behind the line, which caused confusion (multiple clarifications on a relatively simple order... Chicken Shawarma Pita with Naf Fries for a paltry $7.80.) That said, the line moved quickly. I asked (only) for chopped salad & harissa sauce, but there are plenty more options, most of which you can't find elsewhere. The food area looked very clean and organized, which you'd expect on the second day of business.

The order process took a negative turn, once I got to the cashier. Without any acknowledgement, I heard "$8.xx." No hello, would you like anything else (i.e. something to drink?) No eye contact either, which is fine by me, given said cashier's obvious indifference to her job. When I offered, "I'd like a baklava," she replied, "$10.51." Once again, no mention of a drink, yet alone a thank you after giving me my receipt (a receipt which read 925 17th Street, NW... the wrong address.) She quickly walked away into a sea of fellow employees, which at least provided me an opportunity to grab a courtesy cup for water. So much for lasting impressions... at least positive ones.

Sea Salt & Caramel Baklava

Unfortunately, I'm used to indifferent customer service (but rarely on a business's second day of operation.) The dining room is attractive, with cool light fixtures and contrasting putty-colored tables and chairs. Nice floors too, with ample natural lighting from the bay of windows facing 19th Street. The music (a modern mix of Justin Bieber, Meghan Trainor and Twenty One Pilots) was way too loud for my liking, but that's a simple fix. While you're at it, perhaps a little less employee-to-employee chatter from behind the counter?

Naf Naf Grill interior

In terms of food, there's potential for greatness. The shawarma is delectable, coupled with equally tasty chopped salad and a fiery harissa sauce. Too bad, it's parked inside a doughy, oversized pita bread. My first three bites were bread only, which tells me, "more filling please." Thinner pita would help too. Get that right, and we're talking "home run." The Naf Fries were a cross between french fries and potato chips... some crispy, some super soft. Regardless, they were salty, addictive and delicious. I can't wait to try them again. The Sea Salt & Caramel Baklava ($1.75) tasted fresh, but far from memorable.

Next time, I'll try a bowl (with basmati rice or cous cous) and one of Naf Naf Grill's two other proteins... falafel or steak. Not as good as nearby GRK Fresh Greek or the Greek Deli & Catering, but a nice addition to a suddenly re-relevant 19th Street corridor.