Having recently returned from a holiday in Southeast Asia, I looked for a place in DC to recreate the culinary experience… but with DC’s new restaurant panache, of course. Mama Rouge, the new Thai (well, French Thai) Bistro that took the place of the former Bangkok Joe’s, fits the bill.
This place has all of the accents of classical French cooking with specialty selections… all coming together in a classic French/Asian bistro setting. It’s not exactly a “fusion” — which is a term that doesn’t evoke much love these days, I know — of French and Southeast Asian cuisine, but it is about mixing and matching flavor profiles for a dining experience unlike any other Thai in DC.
“This is an Asian restaurant that would be fit to open in Paris, or a French restaurant that could be fit to open in Asia,” Chef/Owner Aulie Bunyarataphan explains, as she tempts me with dish after dish on the new curated menu, all in a setting with a sophisticated update of decor… and under a sea urchin chandelier that really did come all the way from Thailand.
What to choose? You should begin your time chez Mama Rouge with an elegant hand-shaken cocktail, like the most popular Blanche & Stanley, or my personal favorite, the Whiz Bang. Then ease your tastebuds into the food flavors with hors d’oeuvres like Scallion and Crab Pancakes, Thai Chicken Wings, or a cultural signature — the Papaya Salad (spicy, though not actually-in-Thailand spicy!). And then… Chef Aulie warns you not to dismiss even the most basic of her meal offerings:
“The friend rice… is fried rice, but the ingredients that go into it, the combination of it, and the flavor of it, are different. Dumplings? We [used to have] so many dumplings before… [the ones that feature on this menu] are truly special. And the Curry; What we cook is more the French style than traditional Thai curry. The idea is Asian curry, but you need to try it, because we made it into the most French style.” (ProTip: We got her to admit that her current favorite menu item is the Pumpkin Curry!)
And you must save room to finish with (either of our favorites…) Le Religieuse (vanilla cream filled cream puffs, chocolate fondant, buttercream — basically a decadent chocolate and creme cake roll) or Financiers & Sipping Chocolate (four blueberry almond cakes paired with rich and velvety viscose cocoa).
You’ll feel like you’ve journeyed to an exotic destination — not exactly Thailand or France — but a contemporary yet vintage place where the Asian Southeast yields to a bit of exotic European.