Sticky Rice is perfect for H Street Northeast, the booming but transitional retail and restaurant corridor at the northern tip of Capitol Hill.
It's groovy and caters to hipsters, but like the street itself, it's uneven in its offerings: Some items are top-notch, others can be pretty dismal.
The setting is evocative: Japanese scroll paintings and flat-screen televisions (which play kung fu movies without sound) adorn the fire-engine-red and exposed-brick walls of this two-story row house. Rice lamps and paper umbrellas hang from the ceiling.
The well-stocked bar downstairs features pagodalike details, while the small outdoor patio is lined with stalky bamboo at this often crowded and loud restaurant-bar, which seems to take its cues as much from Tokyo's funky Harajuku neighborhood as it does grungy Capitol Hill.
The clientele is young -- late 20s and early 30s -- which is a great match for the relatively low prices, small dishes and many beer and shot selections.
This is not a place for the quintessential sushi lover. There are some great rolls, but the quality is inconsistent, and some of the choices are incomprehensible.
Take the Godzirra roll (shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, spicy sauce and cucumbers sprinkled with tobiko and tempura crumbs). It took more than 30 minutes to roll and arrived with rotten stalks of celery, brown avocado and way too much cream cheese. What was its reason for being?
When asked why the wait was so long, the pleasant and otherwise speedy shorts-wearing and tattooed server offered a lame excuse about the sushi-roller (chef) being a perfectionist. So, overexposed avocado is perfection?
But the sushi is not all bad. We tried the classic maguro (tuna) sushi, which was perfectly fine. As were the best-seller Sticky balls -- tuna, crab and siracha rice in a deep-fried inari pocket topped with scallions, wasabi dressing and eel sauce. The execution and flavor combination were both light-years better than the sad, cream-cheese-laden Godzirra roll.
Another best-seller is the bucket of tots -- potato balls in a bucket. This is a hugely popular side dish or appetizer, but why? Perhaps it's just the right kind of throwback Americana that appeals to hipsters?
Or maybe it's just another example of Sticky's wish to be quirky. We don't really mind that as long as quirky goes hand-in-hand with quality -- as with the Sticky balls and the straightforward sushi. When quirky stands alone, it just doesn't cut it.
It seems to us that Sticky Rice -- which aside from the food is a very enjoyable place for people-watching, drinking Japanese beers and dancing -- is at the crossroads of quirky and quality.
We hope it makes a sharp turn toward quality.
RESTAURANT: Sticky Rice, 1224 H St. NE; 202/397-7655; www.stickyricedc.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PRICES: Starters $4 to $9, entrees (mostly small plates and sushi) $5.50 to $21
CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards
PARKING: Limited street parking
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible