Compass Rose Takes Diners on Food Tour
As a first born European myself, and a self-proclaimed versed traveler (I haven’t gotten Ebola yet, have I?), I’m always excited at the opportunity to revisit the world of street food without typical traveling pains like renewing a passport, boarding pets or dodging the occasional gypsy switchblade. Nestled between 13th and 14th Streets on T Street NW, Compass Rose Bar & Kitchen glows from the inside with warmth, beckoning us forward with the promise of authentic international street food, sans travel.
Compass Rose was packed on a Tuesday night, the dining room full of people laughing and sharing meals. Through the windows of the basement we could see the kitchen below, a bees nest of activity, creating a sort of heartbeat leading the way to the eatery above. The bar area was packed with an ambitious happy hour crowd seeking to make connections over bubbling rose cocktails and conversation.
The hostess was gracious and lovely, offering us a complimentary beverage for the unexpectedly long wait. The lush that I am, I waited excitedly for the gift of Greek licorice liquid heaven, but sadly the offered libation never came. I couldn’t bring myself to remind them about my promised drink either.
The first of the four dishes we dove into was the Pescaditos Fritos from Spain, fried whole baby fish with citrus aioli. The fish were crunchy, oily and delightfully salty, reminiscent of oceanic potato chips (with a little more substance) and brightened tremendously by a squeeze of lemon. The citrus aioli was more of a mayonnaise in a ramekin that took up space.
Following that we dove into one of the handful of vegetable dishes on the menu, the Brussels sprouts and prosciutto. The Brussels sprouts, sprinkled with glass-like prosciutto slivers, were very heavy, practically syrupy in oil. Aside from the grease factor, a common component of street food, the texture of the perfectly prepared Brussels sprouts was perfect. The edges of the leaves were slightly charred, bringing out the nuttiness of the sprouts. The soft layers of leaves gave way to crispy, salty chards of prosciutto that crumbled and dissolved in the mouth like pork flavored candy. This dish would have been perfect had it been offered with a side of gym shoes and a bottle of antacids.
After our Brussels sprout sampling, I circled back to my Jersey girl routes and ordered the mini sausage dogs. They were made of sweet Italian sausage dipped in cornmeal batter and served with a house-made mustard. The flavors were muted and vaguely reminiscent of your breakfast fare meeting a carnival fryer. Nothing that Bruce Springsteen would sing over, but to be perfectly fair, the dish made no outlandish claims and delivered as promised.
Our culinary trip ended in Georgia, with the Khachpuri, a bread cheese concoction. The presentation was beautiful and the combination of elements very exciting. The twisted and toasted bread was filled with broiled cheese, butter and raw egg, all swirled together tableside by an enthusiastic server. Let us begin by noting my undying passion for cheese, butter and eggs. The flavor of this dish was divinely rich. All of the components were creamy, soft and indulgent. The texture was unexpected and curdled, very similar to cottage cheese, and not my favorite. The primary flavor in this dish was overwhelmingly of butter. In between long sips from my Czechvar beer, and likely in thanks to it, the dish hit the spot.
I am looking forward to the promise of a later night menu for Compass Rose. This is the place I’d go for rich foods to soak up some sobriety before the night is out. In that sense, Compass Rose remains true to the street fare standard — fattening and fabulous, and on occasion more satisfying than special.
Compass Rose, 1346 T St. NW, is open for dinner from 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m.-3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Diana Veseth-Nelson is a self-described food fanatic. Unrelenting in her pursuit of fabulous food, her current favorites include roasted guinea pig from a local Salvadorean crockpot and truffled popcorn — although she cautions against pairing them together.