Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dinner at Little Serow

It was 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon in February, and I was getting ready to head out to dinner.  No, I do not live in Florida and I wasn't trying to get the early bird special/senior citizens' discount.  It was the night of my birthday dinner (long awaited, I might mention since my birthday was in December) and we were headed out to Little Serow.

Little Serow is an ultra-hip, vintage Thai restaurant in DC created by the chef of Komi, the Washingtonian's Best Restaurant of 2012.  This sister restaurant just opened last year and was included in Bon Appetite's Hot 10: America's Best New Restaurants.  It is a little peculiar and has some very specific ideas around dining...
  • They don't take reservations; seating is first-come, first-serve
  • They offer one menu with seven courses, no substitutions
  • There is no seating available for any party bigger than four
  • It is located in the basement of a townhouse which can seat about 10 parties at any given time
  • There is no sign for the restaurant
  • No flash photography (which means no pictures for you all to see, sorry)
  • It is supposed to be very, very good and spicy (YAY!!)
So we headed up to Dupont Circle, ready to get in line to wait for a table at Little Serow.  We got to the restaurant around 4:15pm (an hour and fifteen minutes before they opened).  When we arrived, we were about the 5th party in line.  By 5:15pm, the line for the restaurant went down the street and wrapped around the corner.  It was unbelievable.  It was also 30 degrees out, so it was a little cold waiting outside for over an hour.  I felt like I was waiting in line for a Black Friday store to open or for concert tickets (do they even still do that?  camping out for tickets?).  My toes froze but I swore it was worth it.  

On cue, at 5:30pm the door to the basement opened and a girl's head popped out, accepting one party at a time inside the intimate restaurant.  By 5:45pm we were seated at a long, communal table (on one side) that faced a big, white basin sink with beer on ice.  SUCCESS!

The decor at Little Serow is simple with a distressed tin roof, vibrant sea-green walls, and classic white tables with bar stools adorned with tea-light candles.  The entire ambiance is like having dinner at someone's house -- relaxed, cozy and fun.

There is a small, selective wine and beer menu that offers a range of drinks like Belgium beers, IPAs, and a Lambrusco (sweet, red Italian bubbly wine) -- all pair really well with the spice in the courses.  They offer beers by the pour - $5 for a 5 oz glass.  Which is what I went with - a Belgian variety.  Then it was time to get things started.

Each table gets a rice basket (sticky white rice) and veggie basket (cabbage, radish, Thai eggplant, lettuce, and Thai basil among other things) as an accompaniment to each course.  These both can help temper the spice of the dishes if things heat up too much.  I didn't have any problem with the spice in any of dishes but that didn't stop me from eating all those veggies!  Turns out, fresh cabbage is really tasty.

The first course, nam prik gapi was a spicy shrimp based dip with pork grinds for dipping.  Really yummy and the pork grinds were light and airy, perfect with the dip.

The second course was the tom kha het served with the bla chorn lom kwan.  The tom kha het was similar to a coconut-based soup with mushrooms which I used to dip my little balls of sticky rice.  This soup had sliced thai chilies and things got spicy fast when I used my spoon to eat it like traditional soup.  It was delicious - one of my favorite as I really like the sweetness of the coconut paired with the spicy chiles.  The bla chorn lom kwan, made of snakehead fish, was a solid salad-type dish.  But I was honestly focusing all my attention on the spicy soup.  

It was at this point in the meal that I noticed the gentleman seated next to us.  He had taken off his glasses and was wiping his forehead which was a little damp with sweat.  Hmm.  So I guess these foods might be *really spicy* to some.  I honestly, wasn't phased by the spice.  Yes, at points my lips got hot, but it was at no point, burning my mouth.  I guess the moral of the story is to know your heat tolerance before dining at Thai restaurant.  

The third course, laap chiang mai, was a rich and complex spicy pork dish.  This one was my husband's favorite.  I liked the fourth course better, the sweet and sour crispy rice and pork, naem khao tod.  It reminded me of the flavoring used in larb gai, with the mint and cilantro playing off each other with a balance of sweet and bitter flavors.

The fifth course was fantastic - sweet, caramelized brussel sprouts in phat ga lam.  This course went well with the final course, the dill pork ribs, si krong muu.  Our dinner ended with a sweet treat from the kitchen - coconut cream over sticky rice.

Overall, it was an excellent dinner at Little Serow - I absolutely loved it.  The food was outstanding, the service was attentive, friendly and relaxed, and the ambiance was truly like no other.  I love no frills dining with a focus on delicious food - cooking what you cook well and doing it a way that reveals something about who you are and what you love.  My only qualm was the pace of the food.  At points, things came out a little too quickly from the kitchen and it was hard to take a break between courses.  But I still ate it all and loved every minute!  


Little Serow on Urbanspoon

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