Chipotle Mexican Grill’s first spin-off, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, hasn’t been open for a week yet. But that hasn’t stopped San Francisco Grub Street, the influential foodie website, from already anointing it The Next Big Thing.
The buzz surrounding the prototype’s opening, in the DuPont Circle section of Washington, D.C., certainly supports that contention. The Chipotle-ized entry into the fast-casual Asian market has been anticipated with the sort of sweaty fervor and reverence that’s seldom experienced outside a Harry Potter movie opening.
While its windows were still covered in newspapers, by-passers were dutifully reporting what they could spy inside to the Twittersphere. A cook line! There’s a cook line plain as day, like the one you’d see at Chipotle!!!
When some eagle-eye determined that an inaugural staff was in the process of being hired, blogs fairly ignited with the news.
Now that it’s open, bloggers and the Twitteratti have been giving the menu of bahn mi, noodles and rice bowls a try. Here’s a sampling of what they’ve been saying about the new concept:
The assembly line ordering system will feel familiar: pick a bowl of rice or noodles, or a sandwich, and choose a protein (chicken satay, pork and chicken meatballs, grilled steak or tofu), vegetable (Chinese broccoli, eggplant, long bean or corn), sauce, garnish and topping.
Long and narrow, the empty walls shine in bright white paint, hardly mimicking the barrage of old-timey photos hung on sister-restaurant, Chipotle's walls. The only decoration: a single shelf of unopened Sriracha bottles.
The sparse, 34-seat dining room is lined with teak-like wood, and is a cool contrast to James Beard Award-winning chef Nate Appleman's vigorous spicing. The food isn't necessarily "authentic" (a thick, chewy banh mi roll made us wish we were at the Eden Center instead) but nicely-charred chicken, bright pickled papaya, and light, zesty sauces are far better than some of muted Asian offerings nearby.
There's a nice surprise at the end of the line: beers like Singha from Thailand, BeerLao from Laos, and Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA.
“Right up to opening we were tweaking things,” he said. The day before the grand opening, Wildin said he had to reprint the burlap-sack-like paper menus after they decided to serve the spicy charred corn hot instead of cold.
—Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder & co-CEO, as quoted by the Bloomberg news service
The space: Eh, i've seen better. The tables and chairs are nice looking but there is only one trashcan in the whole place. Weird. Also, they really could have done a better plaster job. There are places where it looks like something took a bite out of the walls.
The service: Excellent, prompt, and happy to help.
The food: I'm torn on this one. The food is bright, tasty and flavorful. I opted for the rice and tofu bowl with the broccoli and the tamarind dressing. (Someone on here mentioned that it was the best.) I don't know what part it was, but something in my bowl was so freaking spicy that I could barely pick at my food.
—Rachel A., Yelp
Chipotle's #Shophouse has room on limited menu to tout "artisanal organic" tofu but not disclose spice levels (hot and very hot)
The fryer hadn't been working when we first ordered, meaning the pork and chicken meatballs weren't initially available, but they were ready after we finished the first six dishes.
ShopHouse had unwittingly saved the best for last—we claimed these a win all around. Anything these meatballs touched turned to delicious, juicy gold.
—Abbey Becker, Serious Eats