1511 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
Right before this trip Washingtonian Magazine updated its Top 100 restaurants for 2012. Though the list hasn't been entirely released, one restaurant in particular caught my eye. Opened in November of last year, Little Serow offers a single seven-course family style menu featuring authentic northern-Thai food. Even more surprising, the restaurant is run by none other than Komi's Johnny Monis and his wife Anne; apparently the duo adore authentic Thai food and opened the restaurant to share their love of Isaan cuisine.
Operating from the English basement in the building next to Komi, the restaurant almost takes pains to be inconspicuous. Despite that, the restaurant has already built quite a following and the wait for the tiny 40 seat can get pretty long. I arrived around 6:33 but wasn't seated until 8:00 and that was on a relatively slow night on account of the rain.
nam prik makheua - eggplant / crispy pork skin / shrimp paste
Imbue "Bittersweet" Vermouth, Oregon
The meal kicks off with a snack of crispy pork skin. The savory pig skin comes with a dipping sauce made out of eggplant. The eggplant has an intense attack of fish sauce and ginger with a moderate heat that builds with time.
ma hor - sour fruit / dried shrimp / palm sugar
Riesling, "Eroica," Ch. Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen, Columbia Valley, Washington 2010
Literally translated as galloping horse, this dish typically combines minced pork chicken and prawns with citrus and pineapple. I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of bright flavors at play here mixing of acidity and bitterness with a pungent sapor. The pineapple and tangelo also add a juicy succulence to the meat.
laap pla duk - catfish / shallots / sawtooth
Imperial IPA, "Un-Earthly," Southern Tier, New York
Arguably more of a Laotian dish, Larb is popular throught the country as well as in the Isaan region of Thailand. Laap pla is a variation on Larb made with minced fish and spice rather than the traditional lime and fish sauce. The fish has an initial salty funk that is deftly moderated by the shallots and vegetable. All that is quickly forgotten against the raging inferno of spice from the mixed Thai chilies; without a doubt the spiciest dish of the night for me.
nam tok tow hu - tofu / mint / rice powder
Scheurebe Kabinett, Geil, Rheinhessen, Germany 2010
Dubbed "waterfall" the spice in this dish is because is supposed to make you sweat so much its like you are standing in one. According to my server half the diners find this course to be the spiciest the restaurant offers. Personally I noticed a creeping heat but found it quite manageable compared to the laap. The tofu has a pleasant firmness but it is the refreshing crunch of the vegetables that I enjoyed most.
sai oua - herbal sausage / salted duck egg relish
Saison, Brasserie Dupont, Belgium
Saison, "Two Gypsies - Our Side," Stillwater/Mikkeller, Baltimore
Next up was a relatively simplistic herbal sausage. The vegetal peppery bite of the sausage felt a bit austere while the salted duck relish possessed a weighty savory sweet gusto. The result of the combination is a nuanced balance that runs the gamut of flavors.
khao soi - chicken / fresh tumeric / pickled garlic
Chinon, J.M. Raffault, Loire, France, 2010
A Burmese-influenced dish this is popular in both Laos and Northern Thailand, but with very distinct preparations. Monis adheres more closely to the Thai version with crisp noodles and a delicious curry heavily redolent of coconut milk that make this one of the heartier and more straightforward courses of the night. After the fiery larb and nam tok, I appreciated the cooling effect of the creamy coconut milk broth.
si krong muu - pork ribs / Mekhong whiskey / dill
smoked Porter, Stone, California
The final savory of the night consists of three wonderfully tender pork ribs. The sauce is made from Thailand's national spirit: Mekong whiskey. First brewed in 1941, the spirit is made primarily from sugar cane and more like a rum than a true whiskey. The whiskey gives meat a subtly sweet alcoholic tinge while the dill adds a brightly herbaceous accent to the rich flavor of the ribs.
sticky rice - coconut cream / sesame
The meal ended with a tiny cube of sticky rice with coconut cream and topped with sesame. The result is a flavor reminiscent of salted caramel and I certainly wouldn't have minded a larger serving.
One word of warning the food is seriously spicy. For me the spice was too intense at times; detracting from the rest of the flavors as I found myself shoveling food in my mouth to keep my mind off the pain. Of course since the food itself was causing said pain this was a losing proposition.
Given Monis' background, one would expect some gentrification or effort to adjust the menu to a Western palate, but the chef does nothing of the sort. The resulting meal remains true to its origins and offers range of flavors not readily available; alternatively funky, sour, and of course unabashedly spicy. It is also worth noting, the staff are all unfailingly warm and clearly happy to be there.
Little Serow brings something new to DC, that the restaurant is run by Johnny Monis is an interesting factoid but it is the restaurant's faithful interpretation of Isaan cuisine that will keep people coming back.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
1511 17th St NW