It was a wail that could be heard around the office. Fortunately it was late and there weren’t many people around. I forgot to put my leftovers from Hazel in the refrigerator, and the bag had been under my desk for hours. I considered the contents: duck sausage and crispy chickpea tofu with Szechuan lamb sauce. The bag had to be tossed, and my opportunity to savor a few more bites of Chef Rob Rubba’s food would sadly have to wait for another time.
My second visit to Hazel in DC’s Shaw neighborhood confirms my initial enthusiasm. The restaurant’s “medium size plates with global influences” are a potpourri of vegetables, bread and batters, fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, and two Lazy Susan large plates. Each section has three to four options, and while I can boast that I’ve now conquered much of the current menu, I still leave with regrets over the dishes I’ve yet to try. Every dish on the menu appeals to me with innovative blends of cuisines, textures, and styles.
The decor at Hazel is every bit as intriguing as the food. A seat on the patio features a backdrop of an exquisite floral mural and a bird’s eye view inside the kitchen. I love this twist on the open kitchen, which is only visible from outside the restaurant. Beware if there are signs of bad weather. We are at a table inside one evening, when a raucous thunderstorm suddenly takes hold and sends guests and staff scurrying for cover.
The interior has its own charm. Artistic touches include ceramic tile floors, a mural featuring images inspired by the nearby 9:30 Club, floral patterned light fixtures, and a room divider made from assorted spindles.
Vegetable dishes are a highlight, but it’s important to read descriptions closely. Crispy tofu paired with lamb sauce doesn’t fit in as a vegetable dish. We order it without much forethought, and the non-meat eater in our party is taken aback with the realization that comes after her first bite. Our server quickly brings us a replacement. With or without meat, this is a palate pleaser.
Smoky barbecued carrots topped with hazelnuts and splayed across fennel kraut is a treat, but even better is summer corn donburi with cilantro lime aioli toganashi and cotija cheese. The latter is a shining example of the chef’s skill at fusing multiple cuisines into a cohesive dish.
Rubba makes his grandma Hazel’s zucchini bread and serves it with foie gras mousse which is sweetened by chamomile gelee and bee pollen. The sweet elements are a perfect compliment to the meaty flavor.
Pork ribs topped with peanuts, cilantro and a sticky glaze live up to the expectations built up from photos I’ve drooled over on social media.
From the fish side of the menu charcoal grilled branzino is moist and flavorful, enhanced by but not fully reliant on the chunky avocado gribiche that accompanies it.
Getting “Ducked Up” at Hazel is well worth it. The Lazy Susan dinner requires the minimum participation of two guests at $50 per person, but it easily feeds four when paired with a few other dishes. The duck is presented in two phases. It’s easy to fill up before the second part arrives, particularly when you forget about the medium plates concept and order like you do with small plates. This is where the take home box is a beautiful thing.
First comes a mixed green salad dressed with duck fat sherry dressing, deep fried crispy duck wings, and confit fried rice. The second wave of the dish is where the fun comes in, as you can play with your food. Peking Style duck breast with house made steamed buns is served with black garlic ketchup, pickled cucumbers, and kimchi. Tucking in slices of sausage takes the flavor up another notch. Fire Panda sauce is an add-on to this or any dish at Hazel, although our expectation is that the sauce is super spicy and it’s not.
Hazel is the newest addition to the Neighborhood Restaurant Group‘s growing family, which also includes Iron Gate Inn, the Partisan, Birch & Barley, to name just a few. NRG pastry chef Naomi Gallego offers up tempting desserts such as corn pudding with blueberries and cotton cheesecake with yuzu coconut sorbet, but regretfully I’ve been too full to indulge in them.
My next visit to Hazel will likely be another adventure in over-ordering. There’s just too much goodness here to pass up. The trick will be figuring out a way to ensure that I remember to enjoy my leftovers, instead of leaving them out.
Hazel, 808 V Street, NW, Washington, DC