Mango Tree Opens in CityCenterDC Today
There some finishing touches still to be completed — paint touch-ups here, a bowl of Thai fruit there, black and white photos of Thailand in the lounge, but Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant chain based in Bangkok with 11 locations around the world, will open its 12th location today at 5 p.m. in the new CityCenterDC downtown.
The original Mango Tree in Bangkok was opened 20 years ago in a house formerly owned by King Rama VI by Pitaya Phanphensophon. He converted the home into a restaurant and named it after a mango tree growing in the front yard. (The son of the house’s former owner who planted the tree lives in D.C.)
The upscale Thai restaurant – no Buddha statues or elephants — has partnered with chef Richard Sandoval, owner of Ambar, El Centro D.F., Masa 14, Toro Toro and Zengo to bring the first Mango Tree to the U.S.
The flagship U.S. location has a 45-seat emerald green and gray first-floor bar and lounge, and second-floor 140 –seat bar and spice-colored dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows. There will also be a 25-seat outdoor terrace in warmer weather. Lázaro Rosa-Violán Studio designed the 6,800-square food orange, yellow, brown, black and gray space.
Trevor MacKenzie, managing director of Asian Cuisine & Hospitality Co., Mango Tree’s owner, said the D.C. location is the first of the restaurant’s new design with a separate bar and lounge area. “When people come to your house, they don’t just come in and go to the billiard table,” MacKenzie said. “You have a cocktail and conversation first.”
The first-floor lounge will serve drinks and a bar bites menu, MacKenzie said. Then, when your table is ready, a hostess will escort your party to an elevator that will take you to the second-floor dining room, which is divided into four distinct areas – a more intimate area with teak wood tables, gray banquettes and leather chairs; . the tables and leather chairs along the windows for “those who want to see and be seen,” MacKenzie said. There’s also an area with larger round tables and red booths that have a view of the kitchen for business dinners; and the upstairs bar.
The food is authentic Thai, not the Americanized version most are used to. “We want to show people that Thai food isn’t just yellow curry, tom yum and pad thai,” said chef de cuisine Paul Kennedy, who has been with Mango Tree for five years, most recently in Dubai. The Englishman, who is classically French trained, spent his first 10 weeks with Mango Tree in Bangkok being immersed in Thai cooking. He spent time cooking in the restaurant, visiting markets, eating street food and visiting the country’s four culinary regions that are represented on the menu. He said part of his training was that the staff only spoke to him in Thai.
The menu includes the Thai specialties Phanphensophon built the business on as well as upscale talks on classics such as crispy catfish with green mango salad and cashews; tom yum goong mung gorn, a spicy and sour lemongrass and kaffir lime infused broth with Maine lobster; pad thai goong mung gorn, stir-fried rice noodle with Maine lobster in tamarind sauce; gaeng phed ped yang, red curry with roasted duck breast, pineapple and apricot; goong mung gorn phong garee, a baked Maine lobster dressed in yellow curry powder, egg and onion; and khao pad bu, crab meat fried rice. Appetizers and salads are priced $10-$15, soups are $12-$18, entrees are $24-$36 and desserts – including Thai tea creme brulee, mango cheesecake and mango sticky rice — are $9.
MacKenzie said there is only one small freezer in the restaurant (you have to store the ice cream somewhere) and all the food is made fresh daily.
Kennedy moved to Falls Church a year ago and has spent that time sourcing ingredients. “I’ve been able to find a lot of ingredients in the U.S. that we use in Thailand, which have the same taste and profile and what we would be able to get in Thailand.” He said a few ingredients were difficult to find and others, such as pea eggplants and fresh pandan leaves, were impossible. “If I can’t find it, then weren’t not going to do the dish.”
Despite the dried Thai chili pepper tied around every napkin (yes, I know that is a dried Mexican chili tonight. The Thai peppers haven’t arrived yet), the heat levels vary. Even though are no little red chili peppers on the menu indicating spice levels, servers have been trained to guide guests towards dishes with a comfortable spice level for them. The kitchen can also turn down the heat on any dish, but Kennedy doesn’t recommend it. For serious spice, order your dish “Thai hot.”
The drink menu includes cocktails made with Thai flavors and ingredients including lychee, dragon fruit and lemongrass including the lychee bellini and Spicy Siam, a combination of Parrot Bay mango flavored rum, mango juice and fresh lime with a Thai chili floating in it, as well as craft and Thai beers. The wine list includes choices from Virginia vineyards as well as some California chardonnays and red blends, MacKenzie said. There are also choices from around the world.
Mango Tree, located at 929 H St. NW, will be open for dinner from 5-11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. It will begin lunch service from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. beginning Monday, Jan. 19 and eventually brunch. The company hopes to add to more Mango Tree locations and several of the more casual Mango Tree Cafes in the U.S. by 2017.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.