Archive for February 5, 2012

Little Serow: a feast for the senses


Little Serow will transport you to another world. That world defies expectations and requires you to sometimes eat with your hands.  Just go with it — and don’t worry about whether you’re eating something the “right way.”  You won’t be disappointed.

As I entered the dimly lit basement that seats about 28 people, I was immediately struck by two things: (1) the kitchen; and (2) the music.  The kitchen is tiny and completely open.  There’s no wall or physical barrier that blocks onlookers’ view of Chef/Owner Johnny Monis and his crew.  The music, like the decor, is folksy, reminiscent of the soundtrack from the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?  It’s a stark contradiction to the restaurant’s Isaan-style cuisine.

Isaan cuisine hails from Northeastern Thailand and is somewhat distinct from what is commonly known in the States as Thai food.  There’s more heat and less coconut milk, for starters.  Little Serow offers only a pre-fixe menu composed of about seven courses, which are served family style ($45).  Below I describe some of my favorites.

Nam Tok Tow Hu

The meal started with duck liver mousse served with fried green banana chips and pork rinds.  The unexpected flavor pairings worked well together and the dish was an excellent and telling primer for the rest of the meal.

The next few courses packed a whole lot of heat.  I had to take a time-out after the catfish dish (Laap Pla Duk) because my entire head felt like it was on fire.  If I were a cartoon character, I would have had smoke shooting out of my ears.  Of course, I kept eating through the sweats because it tasted so good.  I also quelled some of the heat by eating more of the sticky rice and fresh green vegetables that were brought to us at the beginning of the meal and remained on the table until the end. These accompaniments are meant to not only tame the heat, but also serve as vessels for scooping up food, in addition to, of course, your hands.  Hands come in handy (ha!) when trying to extract the super sticky rice from its cute little straw container.

The tofu in the Nam Tok Tow Hu was so crispy and tasty that, for a while, I forgot I was eating tofu.   The mint, lime juice, and peanuts balanced out the richness of the fried tofu.

The ground duck over noodles (Ped Grapao) was my favorite of favorites.  It came with a fried duck egg (sunny-side up).  Break the yolk and flip the egg over so the creamy yolk can ooze its way throughout the noodles.  Delicious!

Excellent food aside, there are two more reasons I liked Little Serow.  First, the staff plays an integral part in the experience.  The staff is so welcoming, happy, and helpful.  They instantly put patrons at ease — a very important quality as patrons embark on an exotic culinary adventure.  Lastly, Little Serow is more accessible and affordable than Monis’ other restaurant Komi (next door to Little Serow), which is reserved for those very special of occasions and requires reservations a month ahead of time.  While Little Serow does not accept reservations, the wait is manageable especially when you can grab a few drinks at a nearby restaurant as you wait for Little Serow’s hostess to text you when a table becomes available.

Little Serow
  1511 17th Street NW
  Washington DC 20036
Tel: None
Hours: Tues - Wed: 5:30-10:00 PM
       Thurs - Sat: 5:30-10:30 PM
Walk-ins only
(Restaurant will text you when your table is ready)


Little Serow on Urbanspoon

First Look at Mintwood Place: two forks up!

Escargot hushpuppies

My first trip to Mintwood Place made me very happy.  It’s no wonder given that Mintwood’s owners (the same as Perry’s, next door) landed Cedric Maupillier as the executive chef.  Maupillier’s credentials are impressive and include stints working under Chef Fabio Trabocchi at Maestro and Chef Michel Richard at Central.  Last summer, he finished out a contract as consulting chef for Medium Rare in Cleveland Park.  I’m not sure how long he’s planning to stay at Mintwood Place, but I plan to take full advantage of his culinary delights as long as I can.

Maupillier’s preparations are simple but the flavor is well-developed.  The escargot hushpuppies are some of the best hushpuppies I have ever had.  I’ll admit that I did not really taste the escargot.  When we sliced a hushpuppy in half we could see it only contained a small amount of the French delicacy.  So, for those that are already cringing at the thought of consuming escargot, trust me, you won’t even notice it and the hushpuppies are just so good that they are worth a try.

The cast-iron chicken is amazing.  I normally don’t order chicken when I eat out because I eat enough of it at home.  In this case, I’m so glad I listened to the waitress’ recommendation.  A quarter chicken (leg and thigh) is roasted on a cast-iron dish along with root vegetables, lots of rosemary, and then finished off with a sprinkling of sea salt.  I can only guess that the chicken was brined before roasting because it was so tender and flavorful that I was speechless as I devoured it.  It’s a simple but beautifully executed dish.

The tagliatelle Bolognese was hearty and flavorful. I also loved the side dish (a la carte) of roasted brussels sprouts with bacon.

The ambience was casual and warm and the staff was welcoming and friendly. Overall, I’m happy to see Mintwood Place join the mere handful of quality restaurants in Adams Morgan.

Mintwood Place
  1813 Columbia Rd. NW
  Washington, DC 20009
Tel: 202.234.6732
Hours: Mon - Thu: 5:30 pm-10:30 pm
        Fri - Sat:5:30 pm-11:30 pm
        Sun: 5:30 pm-10:30 pm


The Hamilton: A little of everything

Gnocchi (courtesy of The Hamilton)

The Hamilton sounds too good to be true.  At 37,000 sq. ft and three floors, this ambitious new venture from Clyde’s Restaurant Group that occupies the old Borders space at 14th and F St. NW, seems to do it all. It’s open 24 hours, has a live music venue, and several bars and dining rooms.  Its menu seems to have been cobbled together using menus from diners and Korean, Japanese, Italian, and BBQ restaurants.  Its late night menu offers pancakes, burgers, and everything in between.  I’m tired just thinking of all its attributes.

The question is with such a huge menu and varied cuisines, can the kitchen really master any of them?  And moreover, does it have to? The answer to both questions is no.  While some dishes were better than others, nothing was outstanding and nothing was offensive.  So while the “kitchen sink” approach to cuisine seems inherently offensive to me, I can see how a little of everything, even if mediocre, can often times be good enough.  This is especially true when you’re with a group of people who can’t settle on one type of cuisine or when you “need” that late-night, post-drinking grub.  I also imagine the Hamilton will be a favorite among restaurant industry folks who need to unwind after working a long shift.

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