One thing you learn quickly when you start working as a food critic—and eating 14 restaurant meals a week—is the art of moderation. Even if you find ecstasy in a bite of Parker House roll or a slurp of khao soi, you taste, then you move on.
That skill went out the window during my first meal at Cane, the Trinidadian street-food place on H Street run by chef Peter Prime and his sister Jeanine. That night, I picked up a lightly fried round of turmeric-laced dough heaped with curried chickpeas and striped with tamarind. I tasted, then I gobbled. My Caribbean-raised friend was even happier with the snacks called doubles: “Now my sister doesn’t have to bring them on the plane anymore!”
Much of the allure of Prime’s cooking is that there’s no “inspired” attached to his Trinidadian food. Although the chef spent time in the kitchens at Citronelle, Equinox, and the Hillstone chain, he avoids fine-dining contrivances. He also doesn’t capitulate to the conventional American palate. Here, tamarind sauce jumps out for its sourness, not its usual sweetness. Innocent-looking spiced potatoes will lash your tongue.
Prime has been playing with his jerk-chicken recipe since college. The version he’s settled on here is terrific. Because he marinates the wings for 24 hours, smokes them, then finishes them on the grill, the chicken has the fire-and-smoke punch that you tend to find at a cookout, not a restaurant.
You may have tasted Prime’s food at the late Bloomingdale restaurant Spark, where he won some attention for his Caribbean spin on barbecue. Follow that lead here and load up on the meatier dishes, such as luscious oxtails or a pepperpot stew whose meats are cooked till they fall apart. There are two stars of his tiffin—a tower of metal bowls that deconstructs into a family-style dinner: his curried beef and his stretchy roti (Trinidadian cuisine has a strong Indian streak). Yet it would be a shame to miss the fried snapper served with handfuls of herbs.
Here’s the trouble with Cane: The place is tiny, it doesn’t take reservations, and most tables are snug. Portions run big, and the food tends to show up quickly and sometimes all at once. No matter. The rum cocktails at the bar are delicious if you have to wait things out. Round up your friends and order as much as you possibly can.
Cane (403 H St., NE; 202-675-2011) is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.
This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.