The newly-re-opened Bangkok Joe’s is in no way a comeback. I cannot stress this enough. It’s not an apology for Mama Rouge, and it’s not a kowtow to the “shut up and play the hits” crowd of the Georgetown waterfront. The new Bangkok Joe’s is a revision, and a tireless march forward from Chef Aulie Bunyarataphan and owner Mel Oursinsiri.
In October 2014, Bangkok Joe’s took a step back from their comfortable pedestal as Georgetown’s premier Thai restaurant, and opened Mama Rouge. The idea was to get out of their comfort zone, and try something new. Sometimes, when we try new things, they don’t work out exactly the way we hope. This was the case with the French-Thai-Fusion-inspired dishes at Mama Rouge. By the end of 2015, the chef/owner team (who are coincidentally husband and wife) decided their original plan worked better. They decided to shut their doors for a short re-renovation, and opened again last night, under their original name, with a party for 125 guests.
Dumplings were everywhere. Little bits of pork and herbs, lobster and green onion, wrapped up tightly, covered in a salty brown sauce, or a sweet red paste, steamed, fried, or just served cold and fresh. While I distinctly remember how each little bite tasted, I can’t tell you any of their names– the hard-working and determined staff could barely get ten feet from the mouth of the kitchen before each morsel was pulled from their silver trays. There was a giant table occupying the middle of the room, where the platters were supposed to wind up. Not a single tray made it to the table until the dessert course.
Beyond the dumplings, there were several other lovely creations from the kitchen; chicken satay in a peanut sauce, tempura-fried sweet potato, a Thai chili crème brûlée, and simple but irresistible chicken wings were all passed around. The bar’s offerings have a similar niche, covering ground that will satisfy most palates, while also providing a few exotic options. The bright punch passed around the party was deceptively boozy, and paired a little too well with the champagne.
In all, this new edition of Bangkok Joe’s will at the very least bring back its former clientele, and return to the success and prosperity of pre-2014 days. However, with a little luck, the team in the kitchen may have a few tricks up their sleeves to broaden the tastes of the Georgetown Harbor regulars. Chef Bunyarataphan tells me this new Bangkok Joe’s is the restaurant she wanted to open twenty years ago. She also tells me she has a new salad going on the menu soon, which will feature fermented crab. While the dumplings are certainly tasty, the new and adventurous dishes are what will get me to come back.