Following the success of Bangkok Golden in Falls Church, Chef Seng opened a trendy restaurant, Thip Khao, in December. The restaurant is located in an unassuming part of Columbia Heights, on 14th street but past the busy streets of Tivoli Square. The restaurant was popular on the foggy Wednesday night we dined there. We decided to go at 8 pm, thinking that after the busy dinner hours we would be able to get a table quickly without a reservation. We were a bit surprised to wait 30 minutes for a table to open up for the three of us, something we saw as a good sign.
The atmosphere was a good mix of casual and sleek. Many young professionals were meeting up at Thip Khao with friends or coworkers. The servers wore beautiful Asian tops, and the décor was modern yet felt traditional with Asian art pieces here and there.
So, of course, we headed to the bar while we waited. As usual, I looked at the cocktail list first. Our bartender Tim described the classic cocktails for us, and each had an exotic twist to them. My Nakhorn Raj was sweet and minty like I wanted, with the sugar cane juice and lemon, but it also had pepper and ginger elements to it that all combined well with the gin. My boyfriend’s Maan Said You Should Drink This was as savory as he enjoys, with chili-infused rum, ginger, mango, and basil. The chili had a strong bite to it that my boyfriend liked but that was too overwhelming for my drink taste. While the drinks were quite small, they had an exoticism to them that I haven’t encountered in many other restaurant bars I’ve been to. And it worked.
Moving over to the dinner table around 8:30, our server first brought us the Lao version of bread: pork rinds, an extremely spicy red paste, and cucumbers. Then he handed us the ‘Lets go to the Jungle!’ menu, which featured extremely spicy foods. We opted out of going to the jungle and went with the regular menu instead. The plates are meant for sharing, so we decided on two appetizers and two large plates for the three of us.
The Lao Pate a Choux, puff pastries with curried potatoes, was the right amount of spicy for me: medium. The accompanying red cabbage dipping sauce balanced well with the spice of the pastries. Meanwhile, the Yor Thod, or crispy spring rolls, were spicier than the Lao Pate a Choux, and they also had a sweet dipping sauce that paired well. The pork, bean noodle, taro, and cabbage fillings all worked well with each other. We were excited at the amount of pastries and spring rolls on the plates.
The bartender had told us that beer is the best drink for Lao and Thai food, as it pairs well with the spicy nature of the foods. So we ordered Lao beer, and I also got my usual Thai iced tea, both of which were pleasurable drinks for the stomach.
Then the rice baskets came out. The backside of the menu features a diagram of how to use the rice basket. Unfortunately, the dishes we ordered did not require their use, as we did not order primarily meat dishes. So, instead of using the sticky rice to grab meats, we nibbled on the rice on its own, as a side dish. This technique of ours helped alleviate our hot mouths.
Honestly, I did not know exactly what to expect of Lao food when I walked into the restaurant. I had heard great things about Bangkok Golden, and I am always up to try new foods, especially ethnic foods. I was pleasantly surprised at how similar Lao food is to Thai. The Kua Mee, or fried rice noodle dish, to me reminisced one of my favorite dishes, Pad Thai, with its long noodles, chicken, bean sprouts, omelet slices, and lime on the side. The hints of tamarind, shrimp paste, palm sugar, and fish sauce in the Kua Mee were not so noticeable to me. While the dish pleased the palate and warmed the stomach, the noodles were not as flavorful as I would have hoped.
The Mieng Muang Luang featured lettuce wraps paired with a savory rice paste, ginger, lemongrass, tomatoes, noodles, pork rinds, and vegetables, allowing the diner to pick and choose what sides to put on their wraps. We had wanted to try one of Thip Khao’s desserts, but the spicy rice paste put us over the edge of stuffed.
Towards the end of our meal, the diner next to us flung his backpack into our table on his way out, knocking over our glasses. Luckily, the only food that got spoiled was the lettuce wraps, but the water, beer, and Thai iced tea got everywhere. The staff immediately came over, moved us to another table, and calmly cleaned up in a team effort.
A reasonably priced restaurant for being so new and chic, the food was also unexpectedly abundant and filling. Already becoming a hot restaurant, the calming atmosphere and the delightful foods leave the customer feeling full of the stomach and of the Lao spirit.
-Samantha Marshall (SDM), Guest Writer