Dining decisions are not always simple. Small plates or comfort food? An energetic, buzzy vibe or a place where you can really hear your dining companions? And which part of the world do you want to be the inspiration for your dishes? It’s helpful to have some direction, which is where Compass Rose comes in.
Compass Rose, located at 14th and T Street, NW, offers a quick tour around the globe. Owner Rose Previte and her husband traveled to more than 30 countries over a period of a few years, and bring their culinary discoveries to the restaurant, with a satisfying selection of street food. My husband and I visit here early on a Saturday night (add this to the list of local no-reservations restaurants), ready to benefit from their journey.
The cocktail list at Compass Rose is imaginative. Indulge in a drink as you navigate the menu. I got “Lost in Venice” with Bluecoat gin, Cynar, Vermouth Rouge, and aged balsamic shrub. The section of the menu called “grub” is divided into snacks, seafood stall, veg and bread cart, and meat counter.
We plan to keep our meal meatless, which is easy enough to accomplish. Pescaditos Fritos hail from Spain. The fried fish is crunchy and sprinkled with plenty of salt. The tangy citrus aioli is just the right thing to balance these babies.
Pupusas from El Salvador combine mushroom, truffle, cheese, cabbage, and zesty charred tomatoes atop warm pillowy dough. This is classic Latin American street food, simple and comforting.
Indian flavors are my favorite, so an order of Bhel Puri Chaat is mandatory. Puffed rice, sev, potato, sunflower sprouts, peanuts, mint and tamarind chutney is piled high and served with lettuce cups. My husband struggles with the lettuce as a vehicle for chaat, but I have no problem with looking indelicate when I eat. I do it all the time.
While our intentions are to go meatless, we forget to say hold the jamón (Spanish ham) when we order the brussels sprouts special with cotilla cheese. Oops. I’m on my own to dig into the thinly sliced pieces of slightly crisped meat that are blanketing the vegetables.
We could end the meal here, but there’s one more dish we want to try. Balik Ekmek is a Turkish sandwich featuring mackerel with harissa and lemon mayo on a hoagie roll. It’s a hefty sandwich, which my husband is happy to tackle pretty much on his own. I’m recovering from eating too much jamón, and remembering that I am not exactly a fan of this fishy fish.
It’s one of those rare instances when I haven’t done sufficient homework on a restaurant. The most popular dish out of the kitchen is a canoe-shaped bread, filled with cheese and topped with a runny egg. The Georgian delicacy is known as Khachapuri, and it’s still on my mind. Must go back for this. I also am eager to sample meat dishes from Lebanon, Tunisia, and Chile.
Compass Rose is cozy, casual, and has all-around appeal. I want to hunker down and explore the world here. It’s a good thing I’ve got a compass.
Compass Rose, 1346 T Street, NW, Washington, DC
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: “It’s a world tour on T Street.”
Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2015, #98