Cusbah Spices up H Street

20 Sep

Not long ago the 1100 block of H Street housed Taylor Gourmet, Little Miss Whiskey’s, and not much else.  The combination of vacant buildings and a somewhat sketchy liquor store made the block one of the less appealing parts of H Street.  However, this summer the block sprung to life with first the exciting addition of H&pizza and now Cusbah (1128 H Street), a Southeast Asian restaurant with a wonderful outdoor bar and patio.  Even in its first few weeks, Cusbah has already helped transform a largely abandoned block into one of the most exciting (and tasty) blocks on H Street.

Cusbah on H Street

The owners of Cusbah completely remodeled what had previously been Naby’s Island Restaurant into a beautiful new space that has both indoor and outdoor patio seating.  Cusbah is located in a corner townhouse unit on the eastern end of the block.  As you enter, the indoor seating is intimate with dimly lit lights that reveal jars of spices above the tables that line the left side of the restaurant.  The seats on the right hand side are high top stools located at the bar.  The owners knocked out part of the exterior wall on the right side to create a large window behind the bar to form a two sided bar (with the bar tenders in the middle by where the exterior wall should be), so that diners can sit inside at the bar or outside on the patio at the bar.  To get outside to the patio, diners are escorted through the restaurant and through the interior door by the bar to the patio that is located on the corner of H and 12th streets (it is separated from the sidewalk by a waist-high fence and several planters).  Apart from the bar seating (four seats) outside, there are a variety of regular tables and high top tables.  When it is nice weather outside, you would be pressed to find a more pleasant environment to dine.  As it gets colder outside, we are told that the owners plan to put up a temporary roof over the patio and will presumable heat it somewhat, so that diners can enjoy the patio even during the winter.

View of Bar from Patio at Cusbah at Night

The dishes at Cusbah are inspired by the spices and flavors of Northern India and Pakistan.  The combination of these influences elevates many of the choices at Cusbah above the relatively mild Indian cuisine options around DC (Rasika is exempted from this categorization) into fiery dishes that excite the palate (don’t worry you can also order them “medium” as opposed to “authentic”).  For starters try the vegetable samosas.  The fluffy pastries are filled with peas and potatoes and come accompanied with a nice mint dipping sauce.  Choose the samosas instead of the chicken kathi rolls, which had a nice flavor but featured too much lettuce as a filler.

Daytime View of Cusbah Bar and Patio

Patio at Cusbah

The entree part of the menu is broken down into several categories such as vegetable, chicken, tandoori kabobs, beef, lamb, and goat.  Entrees come on a rectangular plate with a generous scoop of rice on the plate and the main entree in a bowl to enable the dinner to mix the two elements together to his or her own desired proportions.  Both the chicken tikka masala and the chicken vindaloo were expertly prepared.  If you are in the mood for something less spicy, go with the chicken tikka masala that features tender chicken covered in the traditional (yet fairly spicy) masala tomato sauce.  If you are feeling bolder, try the chicken vindaloo that features chicken in a very spicy curry sauce that will have you reaching for your water glass the rest of the evening.  The majority of the dishes are available in different spice levels, but if you can handle the heat, definitely order your dish “authentic.”  All of the dishes at Cusbah are very affordable and entrees range from $7 to $12, yet feature reasonable portions.  Also make sure to order bread to accompany your meal; we suggest the Naan, which gives your four generous pieces for only $2.

Chicken Tikka Masala at Cusbah

The kitchen currently is not open late night and closes around 10pm (the bar is open late), but we are told that Cusbah plans on serving food later into the night soon.  According to one of the servers, the restaurant plans to open one of its side doors and serve a limited take out style dinner menu for people who have gone out on H Street and may not want to do a complete sit down meal late at night.  Such a menu and set up would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood as many restaurants do not serve any food late night.

In addition to the great food, try out the drink menu which features a variety of clever cocktails as well as several beers on draught and wines by the glass.  While you wouldn’t think of a Southeast Asian restaurant as having margaritas, Cusbah has a margarita featuring muddled jalepenos for a kick.  Our favorite is the Kashmir with rum, lemon juice, simple syrup, and topped with curry leaves.  If you sit at the bar, the friendly bar tenders are sure to give you a show as they mix up your drink.  Overall, the service at Cusbah has been quite consistent, especially for H Street which sometimes has less than attentive service.

Unlike some of the other restaurant on H Street that have recently opened with elaborate media rollouts (Boundary Road, H&pizza), Cusbah was remodeled quickly and opened without much fanfare.  Strangely, the Washington Post wrote its initial review of Cusbah before the restaurant even debuted its full menu (at that point it only had a fraction of the dishes it now has).  Cusbah offers very flavorful dishes from a cuisine that is lacking in the D.C. area in a very inviting and pleasant environment.  We hope that other critics will visit (or revisit) Cusbah, and we are excited to have it in the H Street neighborhood.


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