Mama Rouge Mixes Thai, French Cuisine
After almost a dozen years, chef Aulie Bunyarataphan and husband Mel Oursinsiri, owners of Bangkok Joe’s in Georgetown’s Washington Harbour, felt their guests and area diners were ready for something new. So when it came time to renew their lease, the pair, who also on T.H.A.I. in Shirlington and Tom Yum District in Rosslyn, enlisted Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group to give it a makeover. The result is Mama Rouge Southeast Asian bistro.
The restaurant reopened in mid-October after a complete remodeling inside and an overhaul of the menu. The décor is a contemporary French bistro designed by D.C.-based Collective Architecture with zinc topped bar, tin ceiling tiles, bistro tables with wrought iron bases, banquettes with green and cream cloth covered backs and green vinyl seats, French style chairs, wrought iron lights and green and cream wallpaper with deep red paint on the front and back walls. Even the front entrance was reconfigured and re-tiled. The dining room seat 100 seats, with another 14 at the bar and 30 on the seasonal patio.
Unlike Bangkok Joe’s massive menu, Mama Rouge’s menu is slimmed down to one page. Dishes are divided into sections and categories with traditional styles of Southeast Asian dishes listed next to classically French plates. The food is not about fusion or melding of the different cuisines, said spokeswoman Jennifer Motruk of VSAG; they’re presented to encourage mixing and matching the separate flavor profiles of individual dishes and across menu sections for a different type of dining experience.
“We wanted to create a restaurant and menus that evoke connections to Southeast Asian and French cuisines, but in a very approachable and different way,” said Bunyarataphan. “My Thai grandmother had a wonderful recipe collection that she shared with me when I was young, and I’ve adapted many of those recipes and cooking techniques for the American palate with the items we’ve chosen for the menu, and included some of my personal favorites from classic French menus.”
As a child, Bunyarataphan spent countless hours by her grandmother’s side learning about their Thai family culinary traditions, cooking techniques and much loved recipes. Many of these dishes are at the heart of the all new Mama Rouge menu. The restaurant’s name pays homage to Bunyarataphan’s grandmother, the original “Mama Rouge.”
The menu includes hors d’oeuvres ($5-$9), salads ($8-$11), banh mi ($8-$10), pho ($10-$12), chilled vermicelli noodles ($12), noodles ($12-$14), sticky chicken ($15), curry ($16-$19), BBQ ($16-$18), plats ($18-$24) and vegetables ($4-$9). Dishes like Thai summer rolls, mama’s pork dumplings, and scallion and crab pancakes sit beside steak frites au poivre; banh mi are serviced on croissant or baguette and served with pomme frites; and yellow pumpkin squash curry meets duck a l’orange. Even the grilled lemon grass pork comes with au gratin potatoes and blistered green beans. Weekend brunch is from the French perspective, offering crepes, omelets, breads and pastries.
On my recent visit, I started with Mama’s pork dumplings and ponzu sauce, which were full of pork filling and pan fried perfectly. I followed with the refreshing crab and shrimp salad that was full of crab meat, honeydew melon balls, cantaloupe balls, grapefruit, mint and peanuts. It was like a taste of summer in the middle of our freezing temperatures.
For my main dish, I had the mixed grill BBQ. The brisket was so tender it fell apart, and I didn’t need a knife to cut it. The lemongrass pork loin was grilled and delicious with lemongrass and a sweet soy glaze mixing perfectly, and the char-grilled chicken was coated in a sweet soy vinaigrette. The au gratin potatoes were creamy and cheesy.
The Thai basil soda was refreshing and not too sweet, like Thai iced tea is. It’s just basil, fresh lemon juice and club soda. It, like the entire craft bar menu, was designed by VSAG’s beverage director Jon Arroyo. The pre-prohibition style bar uses fresh squeezed juices and house-made syrups.
All French wines, mostly Belgian beers and a variety of European-inspired cocktails complement menu selections. Two house cocktails are on tap – the Framboise Goose made with Grey Goose, cuaçao, maraschino, lime and raspberry, and the Vieux Carré made with Copper Fox Rye, averna, cognac and Benedictine.
Mama Rouge is located at 3000 K St. NW. It is open from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Friday from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Brunch is served weekends from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and Dumpling Happy Hour is from 5-6 p.m. at the bar weekdays with half price dumplings, draft cocktails and a punch of the day.