Anyone who has been to Thailand will see some of that country in the design at Alfie’s, the easygoing pop-up from chef Alex McCoy and three other owners in the former Mothership space in Petworth. McCoy’s dozen or so trips to Southeast Asia in the past six years have informed the interior, a corner storefront where strings of colored lights criss-cross the pressed-tin ceiling, reed screens dress up the windows and plants bring the outdoors inside.
As for the name, “I’m not Thai and I didn’t want to be patronizing,” says McCoy, 32, the original chef-owner at Duke’s Grocery in Dupont Circle. It’s a shout-out, he explains, to one of the multiple Australian friends he made in Thailand, a surfer formally known as Alfred whose nickname is Alfie.
The menu at McCoy’s latest project brims with promise for devotees of the Isaan style of cooking found in northeastern Thailand, which the chef praises for its “spice and acidity.” A fine demonstration of those qualities is found in Alfie’s catfish salad. The signature ingredient gets grilled, minced and tossed with herbs, chilies, shallots and galangal (similar to ginger) before it lands on the table. The mouth registers fire and a distinctive crunch, the latter from khao khua, or toasted rice powder.
Alas, that deft balancing act evades too many other dishes here. Pork rib soup is overrun with galangal and lemon grass, while papaya salad blasts the palate with lime juice and salt. Layers of flavor go missing in other recipes, including a timid coconut curry soup made with beef and fried egg noodles. Proper seasoning isn’t the kitchen’s lone lapse: Soy-marinated chicken surrenders most of its juices to the grill.
Alfie’s hamburger turns out to be another nod to Down Under. McCoy says Australian-run burger stands are popular in tourist areas of Thailand, where the beef patties might be embellished with grilled pineapple, pickled beetroot and sweet chili sauce.
The waiters announce the dishes at the speed of light, which is pretty much how the food leaves the kitchen. Diners who don’t pace themselves, or ask for their dishes to be staggered, could be done with dinner in about the time it takes to read this preview. My advice? Prolong any table talk with one of the bar’s specialty drinks, maybe a pleasant riff on a Sazerac, made here with cognac and Creole bitters.
Alfie’s, which includes an outdoor patio, will stay in place at least through September, after which the owners are weighing a move to nearby Upshur Street NW. In the meantime, here’s hoping more of the food becomes more like the setting: a true snapshot of Thailand.
3301 Georgia Ave. NW. 202-853-3901. alfiesdc.com. Dishes, $9 to $16.