Tuesday, May 22, 2012

DC Food Tour 2012: At Home with Hidden Thai

Pumpkin stewed in coconut at Thai X-ing
Hidden restaurants are all the rage right now- chefs who can’t afford to open storefronts are working out of their own homes, offering invite-only dinners with BYO policies.  But if Thai X-ing is hidden it’s because it chooses to be, not because it cannot afford a space.   It is a restaurant in a house, so covert I would have walked right by the foliage covered façade with the “X-ing” carved vertically into a single wooden beam were it not for John’s nose- he sniffed out our destination several houses before arriving at the discreet front door.

This was Paul and Lisa’s second time eating at Thai X-ing and our first.  The Sunday night vegetarian dinners had first attracted my brother and his meat-free girlfriend.  Learning that the omnivore set menu Monday through Saturday could be adjusted to accommodate vegetarians in a group, Thai X-ing earned its spot as our second destination on DC Food Tour 2012. 

Cucumber soup with sausage stuffing
Papaya salad, Stir fried beef with mint
After walking into the cramped ground floor dining room where neighbors rubbed elbows while jostling to pass plates around the table, we were quickly ushered out and up the wooden stairs to a far more spacious and airy second floor dining room.  The place of honor, a low table with seats ranging from plush footstools to a wooden bench, was waiting for us along with a superb view of street nightlife through the bay window.

Water glasses and utensils were placed in a pile in the table and along with cheap wine glasses at our request.  Knowing the restaurant is BYO, we pulled out several bottles of wine we had brought along.  (Note: some minor moments of amusement were gleaned from this policy.  As we sipped on white Burgundy and French malbec, we tried hard not to stare as our nearest neighbors took a bottle of Yellow Tail Chardonnay very seriously.)

Flounder with lemongrass and basil
When the food started coming it didn’t stop.  First a bowl of cucumber soup we almost dismissed as a pleasant, anodyne starter until an excavation of the large hunk of floating vegetable revealed a meat-filled center.  A plate of green papaya salad was refreshing for a muggy DC night but not as spicy as I would have liked.  Minutes later the heat problem was resolved with a mouth-numbing dish of stir fried beef with a minty zip and chili kick.

About that point we realized that though we had alerted the staff to the vegetarian in our midst, each of the plates brought out at up till then came with some sort of fish or animal product.  This was resolved quickly, not by reducing our portion size on the meat dishes or exchanging one fish dish for a vegetable one, but simply by bringing more food. 

Mango with sticky rice
There were meaty pork knuckles in an aromatic paste of kaffir lime. Flounder steamed in banana leaves was fragrant from a cavity stuffed with lemongrass but was otherwise plain until dipped into the accompanying pungent chili sauce.  For the vegetarian there were wide flat noodles with tofu and large chunks of pumpkin braised in coconut milk.   
Crying mercy, the stealthy staff whisked away the remains of our dinner plates and in their place left one dish of ripe mango and sticky rice.  It was a simple, sweet ending to the sort of basic yet abundant, home-style Thai food I wish I could eat more of outside of Thailand.

As we walked back out into the District night, I leaned a bit harder on John than usual, so full was my belly.  With dish after dish of delicious food placed in front of us I had failed to show restraint.  A mistake, perhaps, because the night was still young: a late night reservation at the Columbia Room and nearly three hours of handcrafted cocktails were still to come. 

Stay Tuned!  DC Food Tour continues with a visit to DC speakeasy, The Columbia Room.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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