I broke my cardinal restaurant rule for Bad Saint: Never wait in line.
I have this rule because I think that good food should be relatively accessible. What’s the point of sharing a meal if you have to wait two hours in the cold to eat it? Sure, it will probably make you even more hungry and appreciative later. But at the end of the day, what could live up to the hype?
Answer: Bad Saint. It’s really that good. Bon Appetit thought so and ranked it the second best new restaurant in the country this year. A lot of people I know in D.C. thought so and trekked to the far corner of Northwest D.C. to wait in line for two hours for a seat. I resisted the temptation until last night.
I caved because I’m moving away from D.C. after three years of living in the city. I was going through my bucket list of places that I wanted to eat that I hadn’t been to, and Bad Saint popped into my head. Would it really be worth it? I had some doubts, but I walked uphill on 11th Street at 3:30 p.m. to find an answer. I was the 20th person in line when I got there at 4.
I didn’t dress that warmly so I started to get really cold when the sun started to go down at 5. I put my hands in my sleeves and pretended not to notice when the guy in front of me sent his wife to go get him coffee from the bar next door. I was alone, and even though I wanted something warm, I wouldn’t give up my place in line.
Bad Saint’s doors open at 5:30 everyday and people trickle in little by little. Right when I started to think about bolting at 6, the hostess came outside and stood to the left of the line. “Any solo dinners?” she called out. I was the only person to raise my hand.
I had the Golden Ticket to Bad Saint and I was rewarded. For being single, I got “the best seat in the house,” the hostess said. It was a thin slab of marble to the right of the kitchen window and right behind the kitchen. I watched as the cooks prepared every dish. It was magic.
I got to talk to the chefs a little as they cooked. At one point, the head chef put some sliced radishes and shrimp dipping sauce down in front of me. “A little gift,” he said. I had never tried shrimp dipping sauce, but it looked a little like chili paste.
I dipped a radish in and took a bite. It was unlike anything I have ever tasted before. The sauce was tangy and flavorful with a briny aftertaste. I ate some of it by itself, but I also forced myself to dip the radishes in.
Then, the waitress brought out the stir fried egg noodles that I ordered. It was a new special, she said. I curled my fork around some, speared a mushroom and took a bite. Yes; I cried. No; I’m not ashamed. The waitress can corroborate my story.
I started to get full after the noodles, but I was determined to go on. I didn’t wait in line for an hour and a half to eat one dish. Plus, when I ordered I was still freezing from standing outside, so I gravitated toward one of the more warming dishes on the menu: the cauliflower stew with kabocha squash and coconut milk.
The steam was still rising off the bowl when the waitress placed it in front of me. The squash was tender and sweet, the cauliflower was fresh and the broth was sweet and salty at the same time. I started to get full after a few bites and ended up only eating half.
The sous chef congratulated me. “That’s a lot of food,” he said. “You did a good job.” I wish I could have finished it all.
If you live in D.C., go to Bad Saint. If you don’t live in D.C., go to Bad Saint. The wait time is admittedly insane but it’s well worth it. The space is small but welcoming.
Plus, one look around says it all: Everyone’s faces as they eat are equal measures fascination, pleasure and surprise. That’s when you know that you’ve hit on more than good food; You’ve also found an delicious adventure.