When they outgrew their first Beau Thai location, restaurateurs Ralph Brabham, Drew Porterfield and Aschara Vigsittaboot couldn’t bear to part with the cheery red-brick building at R Street and New Jersey Avenue NW that had been their culinary home.
“It’s where Aschara’s dreams of opening her own restaurant came to fruition,” Brabham said. “We all just felt a bond with the physical space. We didn’t want to give it up and see it go into someone else’s hands.”
It’s a good thing they didn’t. In its place is now BKK Cookshop, an intimate and casual neighborhood spot serving Thai noodle bowls and appetizers. And for the Beau Thai team, the restaurant, named for Bangkok’s airport code, is a departure.
Chef Vigsittaboot is using BKK as a chance to expand her repertoire beyond Thai cooking, with plenty of cross-cultural references. Take the steamed buns, Chinese on the outside and Thai on the inside, with fillings such as panang chicken or spicy ground pork. Or the kao mok gai, a chicken leg served with curry rice and hints of Indian influence. Some dishes might seem fusiony — like the son-in-law-eggs, Thailand’s tamarind-sauced version of a deviled egg — but are actually quite traditional.
“I grew up with that,” said Vigsittaboot of the eggs, which, like many of BKK’s offerings, come from her mother’s recipes.
Of the menu’s smaller dishes, a tender sweet-and-spicy pork shoulder with Chinese broccoli and a steamed bun, and the chicken wings, with a heat that creeps up on you, offer the best start. Some sides, such as the Thai coleslaw, are awfully sweet.
But the heart of BKK is its nine noodle dishes, from the fiery Hot & Spicy Noodle Bowl (also on the menu at Beau Thai’s Mount Pleasant location) to the milder Suki Noodle Stir-Fry with watercress and cabbage.
As trendy as ramen and pho are, “I want American people to know that Thailand has many noodle dishes,” Vigsittaboot said. Among the most interesting offerings — many of which started out as Beau Thai staff meals before making it onto the BKK menu — are the Shanghai noodles, made with tubular curled bean noodles instead of long and twisty ones.
Outfitted in handsome peacock blue and gold, with gilded caged lights hanging overhead on red cables, the small space doesn’t leave much room for a bar. That’s why the menu takes a DIY approach. Spirits can be ordered with your choice of mixer, to be poured at the table, and one rotating cocktail will take top billing each season: As BKK moves into fall mode, a summer spritzer will give way to the restaurant’s take on a Boulevardier. Beers include Singha, Tokyo Black and a mango-hinted Yona Yona pale ale; sakes include the $9 canned Kibo and the $22 sparkling Okunomatsu Daiginjo.
It’s a promising start for a restaurant that started as a way for Beau Thai’s owners to hang on to some of its past but gives Vigsittaboot a chance to innovate. Asked if she’s having more fun in the new digs, her unhesitating answer: “Yes.”
1700 New Jersey Ave. NW. 202-791-0592. bkkcookshop.com. Appetizers, $6-$8. Noodle dishes, $13.