Mango Tree Bring Authentic Thai Downtown
Newcomer Mango Tree, located at 929 H St. NW in CityCenterDC, serves authentic Thai cuisine with a bold twist from chef de cuisine Paul Kennedy, who’s British born, classically French trained and has been with the company five years, the last four in Dubai.
Mango Tree was founded by chef and restaurateur Pitaya Phanphensophon in the Silom district of Bangkok in 1994. Local chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval partnered with the international chain — which runs 13 other Mango Tree locations in cities such as Bangkok, London, Dubai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Manila — to open the first American location.
Upon entering the small first floor bar, you wend you way back to the stairs or elevator leading to the large second floor dining room, where hosts greet you by putting their hands together and bowing, just like those who live in the Land of a Thousand Smiles.
The dining room is huge with floor-to-ceiling windows and a warm spice color palate with four distinct areas designed to appeal to different groups. There’s a more intimate area with teak wood tables, gray banquettes and leather chairs. Two top tables and leather chairs along the windows for those who want to see and be seen. Larger round tables and red booths that have a view of the kitchen are good for business dinners or families, and an upstairs bar area with two communal tables are good for the younger, more casual crowd.
No matter which section, diners are greeted with a dried red guajillo chili pepper tied to their napkin with twine. But despite the pepper, heat levels in any dish can be adjusted for taste. Also, the servers are very well trained and knowledgeable, ready to answer any questions about the food or drinks.
The menu, which changes seasonally and was just updated last week, features dishes from each of the four main culinary regions of Thailand: rich and fully flavored dishes from the North, spicy cuisine from the Northeast, more mild Chinese-influenced dishes from the Central region, and hot and spicy cuisine from the South. Each dish blends textures along with savory, sweet, sour and spice that deliver a harmonious taste in each bite.
During our visit, my guest and I started with cocktails. We chose the strawberry basil caipirinha ($10) made with Pitu cachaça, fresh strawberry puree, fresh basil and fresh lime; and the Spicy Siam ($10), a chili infused Parrot Bay mango, mango juice, Thai chili and fresh lime. The first caipirinha was heavy on the cachaça and light on the strawberry puree, but the second was perfectly balanced. The Spicy Siam was a good mix of sweet and spicy. First you taste the mango juice then you get the spicy Thai chili, more of a fleeting tingle on your lips than a fire in your mouth.
The drink menu also includes lychee mojitos and bellinis as well as Thai and local craft beers and an extensive list of red, white and sparkling wines. Cocktails are priced from $9-$13, beers from $5-$25 and wines by the glass and bottle from $9-$295.
Choosing appetizers was tough – there were so many I wanted to try. But I went with the tom kha gai ($9), the traditional chicken soup with mushrooms, galangal, lemongrass and coconut milk. The coconut milk cuts the spiciness of the chili oil sprinkled on top. It was excellent, although I wish the chicken pieces had been cut smaller in the kitchen. It was hard using my knife to cut them while swimming in the broth. My guest chose the char-grilled Omaha blank Angus beef satay ($13) served wrapped in a banana leaf with a sweet and sour tamarind dipping sauce.
Other appetizers include green papaya salad with dried shrimp, grilled baby octopus salad, duck or vegetable spring rolls, fried silken tofu and chili flake calamari. Appetizers range from $8-$14 and soups from $7-$15.
For entrees, I chose the gaeng kiew wan gam nuer ($26), braised Creekstone beef cheek with in green curry with Thai eggplant and sweet basil. This dish was low on heat but high on flavor. The beef cheek was tender and the green curry let the basil flavor through. The only thing I didn’t like was the Thai eggplant, which is nothing like American or Chinese eggplant. It is golf-ball sized, greenish-white and hard – even after being cooked in the curry.
My guest had gaeng phed ped yang ($28) – duck two-ways with Jurgielewicz Farm duck leg confit and roasted duck breast in red curry with pineapple and apricot. The red curry is spicier than the green and full of flavor.
Other meat and vegetarian entrees include eggplant and mushroom in red curry, grilled Portobello mushroom in red curry, whole Maine lobster in yellow curry and Thai herb marinated whole Cornish hen. Entries are priced from $18-$36.
We also ordered khao pad bu ($14) or crab meat fried rice, and kale stir-fried with ginger ($6). Both were good, but unnecessary because the entrees came with a side of steamed rice. The crab fried rice was full of jumbo lump crab meat and enough to be an entree on its own. Make sure to as if your entree is served with rice before ordering a side. I ended up taking both of our sides home and eating them for lunch the next day.
Also, you want to save room for dessert, which is priced from $6-$7. The mango cheesecake was delicious with mango cheesecake covered in mango sauce served with fresh mango slices on a piece of slate. The i-tim maprow or Thai street coconut ice cream, is three small scoops of coconut ice cream surrounded by jack fruit, coconut milk sticky rice, crushed peanut, toasted coconut and brownie crumb.
Mango Tree is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served from 5-11 p.m Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m.- midnight Friday and Saturday. The downstairs bar is open from 11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday and 5 p.m.-midnight Sunday with happy hour from 3-7 p.m. weekdays.
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.