Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Outsider Finds a Home on H Street


I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect on my first visit to the Outsider (1359 H St. NE). I remembered reading the initial ABRA notice which mentioned a menu of Japanese fare, wine, and cocktails, but I had heard nothing about it since that time, and was a bit surprised to  learn they had opened in late February. You might say that the tavern has been flying a bit under the radar. They don’t have a sign out front, there’s no website to speak of, and you won’t find the place on Facebook or Twitter (they are on Instagram). 
An origami elephant lurks behind this Hemingway Daiquiri

The cocktail menu offers some riffs on familiar classics, with the “Brooklyn” adding maraschino to the rye, vermouth, and angostura bitters and their “Hemingway Daiquiri” getting an extra kick by replacing the grapefruit juice with Giffard Pamplemousse. You’ll also find house concoctions that will become new favorites in short order, such as the delightfully bitter “Fifth Column,” made from Cold River vodka, Del Maguey minero mezcal, and Fernet-Vallet bitter liquor, and the perfectly balanced “The Dot” which combines Brisson grand cru, Don Ciccio fennel liquor, Dolin genepy, lemon juice, and Jerry Thomas bitters. One thing all the drinks have in common, besides being delicious, is a distinctive lack of garnish. Owner and Manager JD Quioco has banished those ubiquitous bits of lime and lemon, olives, and cherries from the bar to reduce waste. Instead he favors a wide variety of bitters and amari as well as house-created fruit essences made from zest oils.   

Pork skewer with house-made hoisin sauce

They make great cocktails at The Outsider, but they’re no slouches on the food either. The food is good, like really good. It’s also extremely reasonably priced. Skewers range from $3 for the vegan tofu and veggie offerings (as well as the non-vegan chicken and pork) to $8 for the octopus (beef teriyaki and scallop are $5 and $7 respectively).

The onigiri are a treat
The onigiri (stuffed rice balls) Chef James Frederick crafts are extremely tasty. They come in five varieties; umeboshi (a sour plum prepared in-house), spicy pork, salty beef, salmon skin, and sweet sausage. At $3 each you’ll tempted to order them all. But be prepared to dine without utensils: all food is made to be eaten by hand. The entire menu is also gluten free, with black bean and hoisin sauce both made in-house. Peek into the kitchen to confirm the rumor is true, Frederick does it all with just a grill and rice cooker.

Chef James Frederick poses with one of Erica Chambers' whimsical creatures
In keeping with the Japanese inspired vibe, The Outsider offers a short menu of sake. Venture over to the wine list and you’ll be forgiven if it’s all Greek to you, because most of the wines are in fact from Greece. If you absolutely must have a beer, it will be a Sapporo. 

JD Quioco in action
The Outsider doesn’t just treat your taste buds with fabulous food and drink choices, but also rewards the eyes with Erica Chambers’ graffiti-style kanji (Japanese logographic characters) and adorable monsters who look like they jumped out of horror magna determined to terrify you but are just too cute to give a good scare. The music is eclectic and played at a volume that won’t interfere with any conversation. Which is important because The Outsider was made to be a neighborhood bar where friends can come to relax and unwind and a patron might be lucky enough to discuss 1980’s professional wrestling greats with charming bartender Rick Foster.   

The Outsider is open Tuesday-Thursday, 5pm-1am and Friday-Saturday, 5pm-2am. 



Anonymous said...

I appreciate the pieces on H Street restaurants and bars. There are so many and they change. It is nice to have some curation of them. Weeks later I'll sometimes go back to an article I remembered and end up going to the restaurant.

inked said...

10:22, I’m glad you find them useful. We have so many places now compared to a decade or so ago. The variety is awesome, but it also means there’s an ever expanding list of spots on my to try list.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. I live off 13th and H and had no idea this was here.