The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide as No. 8 on Tom’s Top 10.
8. Little Serow
My ambivalence about tasting menus takes a holiday at the best Thai expression on the East Coast. “All the decisions are made for you,” a server says of the seven or so dishes served family-style. “Make yourselves at home,” she says, pouring sparkling rosé in advance of the best fireworks show outside the Fourth of July. Her entreaty is easy to follow; Johnny Monis is cooking the meal, after all. (As shy as he is talented, the James Beard Award winner leaves guest care to his wife and co-owner, Anne Marler.) For the next hour or so, we marvel at dishes inspired by northern Thailand: crunchy pig ears blasted with fresh lime and a touch of fire, and a salad of fiery duck innards, crisped with shallots and garlic and meant to be scooped up with cool cabbage leaves. The votive-lit green bunker in Dupont Circle isn’t for everybody; Little Serow (rhymes with “arrow”) doesn’t take reservations or alter its menu to suit individual tastes. Those are small prices to pay for big flavors that linger in your head long after you’ve licked your plate clean.
Little Serow: 1511 17th St. NW. No phone. littleserow.com.
Prices: Prix fixe $49.
Sound check: 76 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The Top 10:
The following review was originally published Oct. 2, 2015 as part of The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide. Little Serow was No. 4 on Tom’s top 10 last year.
Yes, you’ll probably have to wait in line if you want to eat during the first seating, and, no, the kitchen can’t accommodate fussy eaters. Little Serow packs heat, meat and nuts into its menu, just as cooks all across Northern Thailand do. The payoff — for standing outside, for an adventurous palate — is eight or so courses of food that’s “spicy and loud,” as our enthusiastic server explains, pointing out that the basket of herbs and a pouch of sticky rice are there to refresh the palate and swab sauces.
My companion, a novice to the strangely green basement venue from Johnny Monis, the chef-owner of the neighboring Komi, can’t stop smiling. “Everyone is so NICE here!” Nor can my guest put her spoon down after she samples her first taste of ma nor: Plums, pineapple, dried shrimp and pork — by turns sweet and hot — have that effect on a person. Same with soft eggplant and green beans garnished with mint and shaved cured duck egg, a tart contrast to the first small plate. Shredded catfish is preceded by “a little fire extinguisher,” a server says, pouring a gratis glass of bubbly to tame the flames of tropical spices and the stab of galangal. Bringing up the rear are the softest pork ribs in town, sweetened with whiskey and sprinkled with dill.
The family-style feast remains $45 a person, the same price charged when the Thai thriller opened four years ago. What has changed is my reaction to what’s proved to be one of the most consistent and polished performances in Washington. Welcome to the four-star club, Little Serow.