Since the opening of the Georgia AvenuePetworth Metro station on the Green Line in 1999, the neighborhood has become almost trendy, a magnet for young couples of many ethnic backgrounds. There's no better place to observe the new Petworth than at Domku, a stylish restaurant with an unlikely menu–it serves Scandinavian and Middle Eastern food.
The dining room is furnished with a mix of retro furniture from the '50s through the '70s–tables and chairs mixed with comfortable couches, lounge chairs, and coffee tables. The clientele takes advantage of all those configurations–a few people perch at the bar, two older couples eat at the tables, a group of friends has drinks around a coffee table, a young man sprawls on a couch with his computer, taking advantage of the restaurant's wi-fi connection.
An evening at Domku starts well with drinks. The restaurant offers a selection of about a dozen aquavits, infused in-house with herbs, fruits, and spices. A single shot is $6, a flight of three $16. The red chili pepper and the caraway were particularly good. Cocktails include the Republic of Petworth, a mixture of carrot juice, lemongrass-and-ginger aquavit, and a honey liqueur, and a Pickled Martini, with Swedish vodka, red onion, and dill muddled with pickled herring juice. Bottled beers are imported from Russia and other Eastern-bloc countries.
Domku's menu, the same at lunch and dinner, is unlike any other in town, and very unlike any other on its street, which tends toward deli food and Chinese takeout. The mix of Scandinavian and Eastern European specialties seems to appeal to the neighborhood. It's uncomplicated food, casual enough for a light meal or snack but substantial enough for dinner.
Starters are simple and good–a selection of open-face sandwiches including herbed cream cheese with cucumber on rye; pickled herring three ways; delicious house-cured gravlax with sweet mustard; intensely smoky Baltic sprats; and an oddly tasteless Finnish cold-cured beef. Soups sounded better than they tasted: Beet soup was thin, and the kitchen was out of the pork-filled dumplings that were supposed to be part of it. Green-pea-and-vanilla soup was odd.
There's an appealing selection of big salads–beet root with bleu cheese was delicious–plus sandwiches and a small selection of main-course hot dishes. Kielbasa and sauerkraut was hearty and good. Tender Swedish meatballs are served with good mashed potatoes and a sweet-tart lingonberry preserve. Pierogi, somewhat bland but comforting, come in two variations–the one filled with potato, cheese, and bacon is much better than the vegetarian sauerkraut-and-mushroom. A Serbian dish called gibanica, baked layers of phyllo and feta cheese, would have been better crisper. Beef tenderloin with a tomato-flavored hollandaise sauce was very nice.
Domku serves breakfast Thursday through Sunday. If the Norwegian pancake or Swedish waffles aren't appealing, try the baked beans on toast or the bake of grits, egg, and cheese.
Service can be slow–two servers take care of the entire dining room–but it's unfailingly cordial. A neighborhood restaurant like Domku is one of the great things about living in a part of DC that is on the upswing.
821 Upshur St., NW; 202-722-7475. Open for Tuesday through Saturday for dinner Tuesday through Sunday for lunch, Thursday to Sunday for breakfast.
Atmosphere: Casual and friendly.
Food: Scandinavian and Slavic, with sandwiches, salads, and hot dishes.
Service: Sometimes stretched thin but friendly.
Price: Moderate. Appetizers $5 to $8.50, main courses $6 to $17. Dinner for two, about $55.
Bottom Line: A charming neighborhood place with good food and friendly service.