By Logan Hollers
D.C. food fans, rejoice! Devotees of Laotian food have long been forced to travel to Bangkok Golden in Falls Church to get their salty, spicy fix. Chef Seng Luangrath, however, heeded the calls of the BG faithful and is finally opening her new outpost in DC.
Thip Khao, the Lao term for the small woven basket used to serve sticky rice, will open in early December just north of the Columbia Heights metro. BYT was lucky enough to score an invite to the soft opening last week, and came away duly impressed.
Laotian cuisine is a mishmash of French, Cambodian, Chinese, and Northern Thai flavors, with a heavy emphasis on fresh, minimally prepared ingredients. Lao food is characterized by the heavy use of galangal, dill and mint, as well as lemongrass, coriander, basil, fresh chilis, tamarind, ginger and kaffir lime leaves. Unlike Thai dishes, Laotian dishes are seldom solely sweet, and meals usually include fresh raw greens, vegetables, and herbs served on the side. Sticky rice is also ubiquitous, and is served with every meal at Thip Khao.
One of the standouts was the Sai Oua, a ground pork sausage made in house. Served with raw ginger and a brutally spicy dipping paste, this is guaranteed to be a top seller.
Lao cuisine also heavily features preparations of fresh seafood. Thip Khao nails this category with its Moak Pah, a steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves with chili paste, lemongrass, and dill. The spicy, creamy curry sauce is a perfect pair with the meaty Chilean sea bass.
Another hallmark of Laotian food is a focus on ping, or grilled dishes. Thip Khao offers both a grilled pork shoulder or, as we sampled, a half chicken. The wood grill imparts a crispy crust while leaving the bird moist and juicy. Great use of an open fire.
Ask someone from Laos to name the country’s national dish, and almost everyone will mention laab, a Lao minced meat salad. While there are a few other places in DC you can find laab, Thip Khao’s rendition stands out, with ground chilis, toasted rice, and a distinct lime tang bringing the flavor bomb. A showering of green onion, cilantro, and mint help cool the burn. (Insider tip: go with the duck.)
With all of these intense flavors, one needs a little freshness to tame the heat. Look no further than the Pak Nam, a crispy watercress salad with cashews and shrimp in a tamarind sauce. Diced mango and green apple bring just a touch of sweetness to this dish, and the crispy greens are an awesome textural contrast to the creamy, spicy sauces inherent in most of Thip Khao’s dishes.
Thip Khao doesn’t yet have booze, but they plan to serve wine and beer and have enlisted the talented Jack Caminos (a veteran of the Brixton, Black Jack, and Compass Rose) to design a special cocktail menu and house-made spiked tropical sodas. For now, we’d recommend the Pandan Iced Tea; pandan leaves, used widely in Southeast Asian cooking, have a scent and flavor identical to cooked rice (sounds weird, but tastes great…seriously!), making it a great complement to Thip Khao’s rice-based dishes.
With its gorgeous interior, pleasant service, and outstanding Laotian cuisine, Thip Khao is poised to become one of the premiere Southeast Asian destinations in DC. Watch your back, Little Serow.