Queen Amannisa in Crystal City on 23rd Street (just down the street from Jaleo) opened about a month ago, the first Uyghur restaurant that I know of in the DC area. The place was still very much in its "soft opening" phase when we ate there today -- the menu is not yet finalized (there is a version with pictures of the food that has several items crossed out and typographical errors corrected by hand and a one page paper version with the dishes they actually have and the prices). The paper menu says something like, "We're still soft opening -- feedback is welcome). There were a number of minor service glitches that wouldn't occur in a more seasoned restaurant, like bringing the credit card receipt out without a pen to sign it with, water for the tea that wasn't hot enough, and, a noodle dish that had cooled slightly before they brought it to the table.
The early Yelp reviews have absolutely savaged the service, and it certainly wasn't perfect, but our waiter was enthusiastic, eager to share information about the menu, and funny.
"We've had Uzbeki lagman before, is Uyghur lagman the same?" (lagman are hand-pulled wheat noodles)
"Oh, no, once you've had Uyghur lagman, you'll never want Uzbeki lagman again."
"How is the polo?" ( a type of rice pilaf)
"It's very good, but to be honest, if you want the best polo, you have to go to Uzbekistan. For lagman you want Uyghur, for polo you want Uzbek."
The laughing concession to Uzbeki polo was pretty much the opposite attitude of the cafe owner in my favorite Key and Peele routine, the about the competing Macedonian and Albanian kebapi restaurants across the street from one another.
The lagman in fact was good, with handmade noodles, with beef and peppers. Comfort food. The delicious noodles were the best part of the dish. The beef and peppers were savory, but reminiscent of the pepper beef recipe from Betty Crocker's "Cooking for Two" cookbook that we used back in the 1970s when we first got married. If it weren't for the good noodles, this would be an ordinary dish.
The lamb samsas (appetizer) were also tasty, but unlike any dumpling dish I've ever tried. The was very little sauce, just cubed lamb inside the breadlike dumpling. I really liked this, but if you're looking for a typical Chinese dumpling with a wet or soupy filling, you'll be disappointed.
Also, good, but very different, was "braised hairtail fish in brown sauce" -- the sauce was more red than brown, spicy and a little sweet/sour. Tons of ginger, some tomato, and maybe some tamarind (?). Delicious, but getting what seemed like thousands of little bones out of the hairtail was a pain in the neck.
Dessert was a slice of honey cake. This was a cake with thin layers, made up of crumbs that were a little crunchy and much drier (and less sweet) than the typical American cake. I'm not usually much for desserts, but I thought the honey cake was the highlight of a good meal. The only other dessert option (at least today) was a "vanilla cake." We didn't try it, but it looked very interesting -- more like a pile of slivers of cake than an actual cake.
When Queen Amannisa's owners finalize the menu, I hope they include the original uyghur names of the dishes. On the current version of the menu, the Uyghur names of the dishes are written only in Uyghur, which uses the Arabic alphabet, making it impossible for me to decipher. I'll bet the Uyghur names sound more interesting than names like "fish in brown sauce."
They have no plans to get a liquor license, presumably for religious reasons (there's still a big bar with beer taps from the restaurant that was previously in the space). I also presume the food was halal, though I didn't ask.
All in all, a good restaurant well worth visiting again, but they're still working out the kinks in the service. I'd guess more than half of the customers there were Uyghur.
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