Wednesday, June 26th, was quite a rainy day. After dispatching my broken umbrella, I made my journey through Rosslyn, and found a nice place at the end of the rainbow. A place with a modern take on casual dining, customizable Thai dishes, and a penchant for Asian elephants. Welcome to Tom Yum District, Fresh Thai Grill, a land of many smiles, vibrant flavors, and located at 1515 Wilson Boulevard.
From the husband and wife team of Chef Aulie Bunyarataphan and Restaurateur Mel Oursinsiri, creators of Bankok Joe’s in Georgetown and one of my favorites in the DC Metro area, T.H.A.I. at Shirlington in Arlington, Tom Yum District brings to you Thai meals in a quick and affordable fashion, but with the customer being architect of his/her own food bowl. The customer picks a base (white jasmine rice, brown jasmine rice, pad thai noodles, or mixed salad), a protein (grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, or tofu), a sauce, and toppings and the restaurant’s crew fixes it up in front of him/her to their liking.
Growing up in a Thai household, this place really brought me back to my mother’s cooking. We would come home from the Asian market with fresh meat and noodles, pick some ingredients from the garden and our cabinet, and make something really delicious and fun to enjoy amongst our family.
For my meal, I built a bowl of Pad Thai Rice Noodles and Lemongrass-Turmeric marinated Grilled Chicken, mixed with Lemongrass-Ginger Sauce (made of oyster sauce and Thai herbs; YUM!). From there, I topped it with fresh Asian mixed veggies (romaine, Napa cabbage, and carrots), bean sprouts, tangy and cool cucumber relish, grilled yellow squash and zucchini, peanuts, fried garlic, and crispy slices of Thai Omelet. Even though I had gathered a lot of different elements in my bowl, the flavors and textures were not too busy for each other, but complimented one another to make the dish quite memorable and tasty.
The soft, sweet noodles with the tangy marinated, diced chicken blended well with the refreshing crunch of the fresh veggies. My favorite parts were the flavor of the fried garlic and crispy outside, yet fluffy inside of the Thai Omelet. Looking at the menu as I was waiting for my turn to begin my order, I was surprised and glad to see these two key components of Thai cuisine that I have rarely seen at other Thai restaurants. My Mom and I used to make Thai Omelet (or like we call it, Khai Tod) all the time for lunch and top a Thai noodle soup (similar to the Vietnamese soup, Pho), called Gute Theel, with fried garlic for dinner.
Another thing I enjoyed was the freshness of dish. It wasn’t sitting around, waiting to get picked up for serving. It was all ready to eat once the last topping was placed in the bowl. Of course, no Thai meal would be complete without Thai Iced Tea (or in my fiancé, Josh’s case, a Thai beer like Singha or Chang, which are also on the menu). He decided to try something with citrus tones for his bowl, so he got the White Wine-Orange Vinaigrette for his sauce. It has a sweet, tangy flavor, but light with a hint of orange that was not overpowering. It paired with the grilled chicken and its lemongrass-turmeric marinade. The food was plentiful, although my fiancé and I still kept eating.
The crispy, multi-colored shrimp crackers dipped in Tom Yum District’s signature Tom Yum sauce (house-made chili paste and lime) was a fun addition to the night with its sweet, sour, and spicy complexity.
I do like hot sauce, but I don’t consider myself a hot sauce connoisseur like my Mom, Dad, and fiancé. That is one trait that was not passed on to me from my parents. The Tom Yum District’s House-made Green Sriracha sauce was good in my case. It’s got a sweet flavor and taste of the green chili peppers and garlic that was lasting and flavorful. What doesn’t last though is the bite. So if you like that rush you get from a very high-pitched hot sauce, then I would suggest instead the dark red Sambal sauce. It has a lasting bite that builds quickly and that nice chili pepper taste. Aulie and Mel also shared another tasty treat served at their other establishment, Bangkok Joe’s, just across the river in Georgetown. Their homemade grilled beef meatballs were really tender and flavorful and I couldn’t get enough of them.
My fiancé and I enjoyed the restaurant’s décor of the circular pictures of Thailand’s legendary street markets; with the woks of Thai fried chicken cooking and meat skewers being turned over on a grill. The colors of fuchsia and royal yellow are reminiscent of Thai orchids and golden temples in Thailand. The community-style, wooden table settings also are nice for casual dining.
Overall, Tom Yum District was a fun experience. It’s a great place for a person craving Thai food on the run or who would like to sit down with their meal and enjoy it with a friend. I only wish this place was closer to my workplace. But nonetheless, I will return again.
-Guest Writer Laura (LLM)