Little Serow does not take reservations.
Little Serow does not allow for any menu choices.
Little Serow does not accept more than 4 in a dinner party.
Little Serow does not allow any substitutions. You eat what you are served and that’s that.
And for all this, you get to stand in line (for an hour and 15 minutes in our case), to dine at the early hour of 5:30 and pay $45 for their multi-course Thai tasting menu.
Oh it was so worth it. And we are clearly not alone in the sentiment.
By the time this Washington DC restaurant opened at 5:30, the line outside the unmarked door was at least 80 people deep and snaked down the sidewalk and around the corner. We overheard many in the crowd discussing the wait-times (long), how often they had been to the restaurant (many, many times) and where and when to line up to snag a table in the prime 7 to 8 o’clock-range (30 to 40 people back).
We were third in line and happy with 5:30. Having tried and failed to get in any earlier than 10:15 in the past, we wanted a guaranteed table, especially since we had convinced friends to join us for the trek from Baltimore to D.C. just for dinner. The couple in front of us (who lined up at 4 o’clock), said they had tried and failed to get in three times, so they were not taking any chances either.
Once inside the Tiffany-blue restaurant, we knew we were in for a treat. The aromas — both exotic and familiar — were heady and as intoxicating as a good whiff of my husband’s expensive Scotch. The warm scent of spices mingling with the fresh scent of citrus and herbs promised the delicate flavor balance that makes Thai and Vietnamese cuisine so appealing — spicy, salty, sour and sweet.
We were not disappointed.
The four of us crunched our way through house-made fried pork rinds that we dabbed in a deep red, flamingly hot spice paste made of catfish, tamarind and chilies.
We fought over our two bowls of rich, coconut soup.
We used bits of sticky rice to scoop up every last chunk of meat, pool of sauce or lone herb from the parade of 5 dishes that followed the pork rinds and soup.
“This is my favorite dish,” one of us would say, the rest of us nodding in agreement, our mouths full with that heavenly spicy/salty/sour/sweet combo.
But then the next dish would appear.
“No, THIS one is my favorite.”
“No, it’s THIS one.” And so it went.
We enjoyed snakehead fish with kaffir lime, chicken livers with hot peppers, sour pork with peanuts and crispy rice balls, pork with crispy garlic and beautifully charred ribs doused with Mekong whiskey.
The dishes on their own were utterly delicious. Delicious as in, yes, I would wait in line all over again (and I plan to). But, what elevated every bite and truly made the meal spectacular were the piles of fresh Asian herbs and vegetables that arrived at the table, along with friendly recommendations from staff as to when and how to eat them.
Grab a leaf of Thai basil or mint to cut through the rich, unctuous liver-based dish.
Crunch a sliver of Thai eggplant or radish to temper a spice or enhance a flavor.
Munch a fresh cucumber slice to quell the peppery flames.
The combinations of flavors and textures were endless.
We are already making plans to return and experience a whole new menu — it changes weekly — and a whole new array of flavors.
I suggest you do the same. Perhaps I’ll see you in line.