OYA Overrated?

Outstanding décor masks a variably disappointing dining experience

Walking past OYA one evening on our way to an event, the flash of flawless décor inside tantalized Dan and my eyes. We readily concluded we must venture in for a quick look and drink.
Upon entering, instantly we were struck by the exquisite décor. The entry foyer has a floor-to-ceiling chain link curtain, uniquely creating separation in a rather small space. Mood lighting set off flawless white leather lounge chairs and white tables merely heightening the stark contrast with the dark chocolate wood floors and red splashed artwork. Easily though, the most ravishing part of the decor is the molten fireplace in the dining room which leaps to grab hold of your attention. In my mind, there was no doubt a venue with such a picturesque visage could only have outstanding drinks, food and service.
Undoubtedly the drinks are top shelf. A long wine and sake menu is complemented by a decent array of mixed drinks, all of whom are easy on the palate. Personally I recommend any of the specialty drinks such as the “Cilantro Daquiri.” Made with cilantro infused rum, Coriander and a splash of Sprite, this drink definitely made my cut of favorite OYA drinks. I did enjoy another beverage much better. Too bad the bartender hung up on me when I called to inquire about this drink’s name. (FYI ~ It’s the third one from the top of the drink menu.)
Sadly, I can’t say the same for the food or service. When I returned for dinner a few weeks later, I was fairly put-off by the fact I had to wait nearly 30 minutes for a reservation I had made a week in advance. Despite my having a large party with me, a long wait with a reservation is rather displeasing. My friends and I managed to amuse ourselves with beverages, but with this lag time I was on the edge of writing a brutal review.
Thankfully, we sat down to a pleasant ambiance with more libations to help my souring disposition. I quickly decided upon the “3 Course Prix Fixe,” which allows you a choice of a first, an entrée and a dessert all for $35.
My first was the calamari. Slivers of squid were twined in a simple circle. Seasoned with salt and pepper, sweet chili and Nori, the calamari was presented without grease in a 1 cup size aluminum stand with a side of sweet and sour sauce. A delicious staple of any good Asian restaurant, I basically had to fend for myself to prevent everyone from stealing my choice.
My entrée was the “Atlantic Salmon.” Cooked medium well with saffron caviar, nicoise olives, cherry tomatoes, and sugar snap peas – all tastefully drizzled in basil oil – I was generally pleased with the salmon but not overwhelmed. Salmon can painfully boring to order, but when done well it leaps out and firmly sticks in your memory. OYA’s did not. I only ate half the salmon but all of my vegetables (a rare feat for me).
Dessert was the “Triple Ginger Carrot Cake Bar.” Sliced into Ladyfinger proportions, the carrot cakes were stacked interlocking with a small scoop of rum raisin ice cream. Again, carrot cake (much like salmon) can be boring and too frumpy of an order; however, when made well it reminds you of why you fell in love with it in the first place. 
OYA’s finest dessert is not the carrot cake but rather the “Bittersweet Molten Chocolate Cake.” Presented in a 3 inch diameter, reverse angel food cake shape, the Molten Chocolate Cake oozed sensuous flavor. Perhaps it was the chocolate center or the mandarin orange anglaise gently co-mingling with the small scoop of vanilla ice cream … but whatever it was that rapturized my tastebuds, this is hands-down the dessert to order.
Of course, a popular venue like OYA will not have fewer patrons because of my unflattering review. DC-ers will always want to go to the latest and hottest venue, but I do advice against sitting down for dinner. Save your dining dollars for pampering menu of Acadiana Restaurant two blocks up the street, www.acadianarestaurant.com, and use OYA as your happy hour.

Penn Quarter
777 9th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
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