“Come to D.C.!” patrons of Bangkok Golden in Falls Church begged the restaurant’s owner, Seng Luangrath, for as long as she has had her popular Thai-Laotian storefront.
Two years ago, the chef started looking for a second spot to serve her distinct brand of fireworks. Earlier this month, she made some District dwellers happy when she opened the expansive Thip Khao in Columbia Heights.
The 85-seat restaurant showcases a mostly Laotian menu, served family-style. Make that sun-dried beef, sour fish soup, minced duck salad and smoked eggplant curry, the last based on vegetable broth and meaty with mushrooms.
The gloss of ThaiTanic 2, which previously occupied the space, has been replaced with warm accents: lemon grass-colored walls and painted scenes of Laotian domesticity. Tangerine chairs lend extra pop to the scene. (Thip Khao is a reference to the bamboo baskets used to serve hot sticky rice, pinches of which can be rolled into little balls to mop up sauces.)
First tastes are encouraging. Airy pork rinds dipped in a rugged paste of dried chilies, shallots, galangal and fish sauce whet the appetite for more. Fried quail whispers of ginger, garlic, oyster sauce but shouts of white pepper. Delicious. Sliced house-made pork sausage eaten with roasted peanuts and matchsticks of fresh ginger is charcuterie by way of Southeast Asia.
The biggest splash at a recent visit was made by sea bass swaddled in banana leaf. A sauce of tropical herbs, shallots and coconut milk kept the fish moist — and made it luscious — while the package was first steamed and then grilled.
Thip Khao’s charms aren’t endless. Fried watercress tossed with apple, cashews, tamarind sauce and shrimp sounds like a joy ride. But the dish hits a bump in the road: excessive sweetness, which throws the combination off.
Luangrath divides her time between two kitchens: Lunch finds her at Bangkok Golden, and evenings send her to the dinner-only Thip Khao, where the cooks are Thai and Hispanic. “It’s hard to find Laotian cooks,” says Luangrath. “The community is small.”
3462 14th St. NW. 202-387-5426. thipkhao.com. Entrees, $10 to $18.