Thai After Thai
May 30, 2014
“The food’s so hot!” said the people at the Washington bookstore, Politics and Prose, when I told them I was heading to dinner at Little Serow. “And you’ll have to wait forever; they don’t take reservations.”
It was late when I got there. A cold rain was falling too, which may be why there was no line. As for heat – after dining at scruffy raucous Night + Market in L.A., and the even more intense Kin Khao in S.F., this D.C. restaurant seemed positively tame and rather elegant. The food is also completely delicious, the flavors fresh and distinct, so if the rumors have been keeping you away, don’t hesitate another second. There is not, I don’t think, another restaurant quite like this one.
Spare, modern, understated, the dining room is a kind of subterranean bunker with the kitchen at one end. A communal table dominates the center of the room. Earnest young women in vintage dresses lean across the table to eagerly explain every nuance of the Northern Thai menu as they set out baskets of sticky rice and huge bowls of vegetables arranged as lovingly as flowers.
The set menu is served family style. It changes weekly and offers no substitutions. You probably won’t want them.
I love that the nam priks – or what are called jaeows in Laos – are finally getting their moment in American restaurants. The complex pounded chile pastes I learned to make in Laos are served wtih huge baskets of sticky rice. In Luang Prabang they’re the staple food, eaten three times a day, often with nothing else. The ones I had there were fiery hot, as if they're trying to convince you that you've had more to eat than you actually did. The nam prik at Little Serow, served with great puffs of pork skin, was more salty than hot, with electric jolts of tamarind and anchovy runninng through the vegetable.
This soup uses snakehead fish – the invasive species that is worrying the fishermen of the Potomac. The smoothly sedate soup has notes of wild ginger and lime leaf.
Pork cheek, springy fresh noodles, rice powder.
Catfish cooked with the spices of the Lanna people (they live up north near Chiang Rai), topped with mountains of fried shallots. You use the cabbage on the side is to scoop up this delicious mixture.
Tofu, cilantro root (classic Thai usage), peanuts.
Duck, duck egg, mountains of basil.
Pork ribs in Thai whisky with the suprising addition of dill.
Coconut milk, sticky rice. An elegant parting gesture. The petit four of this Thai menu.
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