Chef Trini's at Wagshal's

An escape to the Caribbean without the layover

The Caribbean evokes feelings and images of warm weather, lush green landscapes, clear turquoise water, friendly people, and flavorful cuisine. The islands, irrespective of which archipelago, share some similarities. West Africa, France, Spain, Britain, India, China, America, and more countries have influenced Caribbean cuisine with current staples like rice, coconut, and onion. The now-ubiquitous dishes like chicken or goat curry, jerk chicken, salted cod fritters, and stews of rice and peas are beloved by locals and tourists alike. The fusion of cuisines in the Caribbean is unmatched.
Chef Trini’s, one of Spring Valley’s hidden gems, is a quick culinary escape to the Caribbean. Specializing in Trinidadian cuisine, Executive Chef Ann-Marie James brings the robust flavors to your plate in a beautiful setting. The restaurant is tucked away in the back of Wagshal’s just over the DC line on Massachusetts and Yuma near American University. Ample parking in the front lot will entail a short tour through Wagshal’s Deli, and there is also an entrance at the rear on Yuma Street, along with patio seating. The location is quite charming.
We were greeted by our charismatic waiter who quickly became a valuable contributor to our great evening. Quick to ask if we’ve dined at Chef Trini’s before, eager to answer questions, and excited to explain the most popular dishes with a knowledge of the ingredients and preparations, he was helpful in guiding us through our dinner. After ordering glasses of wine from the concise wine list, which had many reasonably priced California wines, we took in the transformative ambiance. Chef Trini’s is tastefully decorated in a way that fuses colonial D.C. with island tranquility. Window shades with pictures of the Bird of Paradise and steel drum music in the background that never ends, but is not repetitious, makes one feel as if they could have the sand and ocean to their back.
Caribbean Flavors Without the Layover
Once settled in, our waiter began to guide us through the menu. Per his recommendation, we started with the salted cod fritters (an island classic) and Chef Trini’s pholourie. Two deep fried baskets of deliciousness were delivered to our table about ten minutes later. While similar in appearance, these two appetizers were very different and very good. The salted cod fritters had a wonderfully crispy fried shell and a soft, salty, and savory inside. These were accompanied with a tasty mango and chili relish. The pholourie were fluffy pea dumplings and somewhat similar in flavor to a samosa, but with a softer texture. The mango chutney sauce was bright and sweet. Both starters were delicious and unique.
Next, we moved on to the mains. I ordered the whole crisp-fried red snappers and Jen ordered the chicken curry. The fried snappers were a wonderful preparation of two whole fish encircling a modest mound of rice and sauteed seasonal vegetables. The fish was topped with a sweet and mild scotch bonnet vinaigrette. I asked for some more vinaigrette because I love the flavor of scotch bonnets and they are an uncommon pepper to find outside of the Caribbean. The snappers were a very large portion and cooked perfectly to where the crispy fish flaked right off the bones. The abundance of vegetables and rice completed this beautiful dish. The sweet vinaigrette rounded out the flavors with some added spice and sweetness while not overpowering the mild fish. The taste truly matched the presentation. The curry was equally as impressive. The curry broth was rich and flavorful, and full of rice, pumpkin, carrots, and chickpeas. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and there was plenty of it. This was among one of the heartiest soups I’ve tasted. I’d opt to try the goat or lamb next time in this well-balanced curry.
Chef Trini’s is proof that you do not need to go far to find exotic flavors. Each dish was imparted with robust flavors and plated beautifully with hearty portions. Chef James has created a unique experience, right in the neighborhood, to share her passion with her fortunate patrons. I can recommend Chef Trini’s to anyone who enjoys delicious and flavorful food with a Caribbean flare, and I cannot wait to return.

Chef Trini's
Open 7 Days a Week
At Wagshal's
Entrance 4838 Yuma Street NW
Washington, DC 20016
Kevin Schwed likes to spend his time in front of the grill or in the kitchen cooking with international flavors inspired by his upbringing in Los Angeles, as well as tasting others cooking around the DMV. Follow him on Instagram @whenkevinwantstomakeyoudinner.