Bangkok Joe’s Returns This Thursday
Bangkok Joe’s, 3000 K St. NW, returns to Georgetown’s Washington Harbour on Thursday, April 7.
The restaurant, owned by chef Aulie Bunyarataphan and husband Mel Oursinsiri, had originally been open in the same space from 2003 to 2014. When it was time to renew their lease, the pair, which also owns T.H.A.I. in Shirlington and Tom Yum District in Rosslyn, enlisted Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group to give it a makeover as Mama Rouge, a French-Asian bistro. VSAG is the group that operates Founding Farmers and Farmers, Fishers, Bakers restaurants. However after struggling to find success, VSAG is gone and Bangkok Joe’s is back with an emphasis on traditional Thai ingredients, cooking styles and flavors.
“We’ve heard from so many of our longtime customers that they really missed Bangkok Joe’s,” said Oursinsiri. “So we decided to bring the restaurant back, but with a more traditional influence that really showcases authentic Thai ingredients and Aulie’s creativity in the kitchen.”
“It turned out we upset a lot of people. It was a big mistake changing to a new restaurant in the same location… I didn’t know [Bangkok Joe’s] had that much love until we closed it,” said Bunyarataphan, who added Mama Rouge was too modern at a time when diners want traditional food. “The new Bangkok Joe’s is the restaurant I wanted to open 20 years ago. Over the past decade, we’ve seen customers become more adventurous and more willing to explore traditional Thai ingredients, flavors and cooking styles.”
While much remains the same from Mama Rouge, the biggest change is the stand alone dumpling bar which fills the right wall of the restaurant and welcomes customers back. Expanded from the original Bangkok Joe’s dumpling bar, it now seats 10 and features 20 kinds of dumplings, buns, wontons and rolls paired with house-made sauces. Dumpling choices include larb duck with Thai herbs and crispy shallots served in a sweet-chili zaap sauce ($10) and lobster ‘n shrimp with water chestnuts, ginger-soy foam and chili oil ($11). There’s also a sampler plate with a shrimp dumpling, pork ‘n crab shu mai, chicken potstickers, mushrooms ‘n ginger potstickers and winter squash potstickers ($21). To perfect her dumpling presentation, Bunyarataphan studied with master chef Heng Pukdepl of Suan Lum Seafood, one of Bangkok’s most renowned dumpling houses.
Also new is a dramatic red ceiling with gold embellishments, inspired by a temple Bunyarataphan’s family built three centuries ago during the time of King Rama III. The ceiling is reminiscent of the canvas-like designs found on temple ceilings throughout Thailand. The design by Georgetown-based Collective Architecture uses bold color and repetition, a key element of Thai design. Red, the national color of Thailand, is featured prominently. Gold accents in various shades can be seen gracing the walls, in the oval ceiling dome at the center of the restaurant and on the banquettes, which had been a cream and green print.
In addition to seating at the dumpling bar, the dining room seats 86 and the cocktail bar another 12. The patio will be seat 32 in warmer weather.
The menu includes favorites from the original Bangkok Joe’s along with some updated dishes and some new ones as well.
Returning customer favorites include pad thai with sen lek noodles stir-fried with bean curd, crushed roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, scallions and egg with a choice of chicken, shrimp or fried tofu and vegetables ($13-$17) and chicken basil kapow with spicy minced chicken, green beans, onions, scallions and bell peppers in a chili-garlic-basil sauce ($14).
“I really enjoy updating traditional dishes and adding an element of excitement to old flavors,” said Bunyarataphan.
Her twist on authentic Thai ingredients and flavors is showcased in many of the new dishes such as the fried Thai chicken served with a grilled sticky rice cake, green papaya slaw, tomato-chill-lime jiew, and fried shallots ($20) and the radish “tater” tots with sautéed bean sprouts, garlic chives, egg and Sriracha ($8). Other new offerings include crispy rice yum with seasoned rice, naam sour pork, ginger, peanuts and spices ($10) and hot pot for two served Tom Yum style with a choice of beef brisket or seafood ($16). Gluten-free and vegetarian diners will also find many choices.
The menu also features hot and cold small plates, grilled dishes such as chicken satay, soups, salads, noodle and rice bowls, fried rice and Not Your Ordinary Joe’s, a selection of specialty entrées such as crispy whole founder, grilled salmon teriyaki, crying tiger steak with red onions, basil and rice powder served with green papaya salad, tomato-chili-lime jiew and Thai sticky rice, kao soi curry noodles with beef brisket and wonton noodles in Chiang Mai yellow curry with poached egg, red onion, pickled mustard greens, lime and chili oil, scallops and shrimp risotto and lemon grass crusted salmon.
Thai pepper crème brûlée with cilantro candy and a chocolate spoon ($7) continues the reimagining of traditional Thai ingredients into dessert. Breakfast for dessert makes an appearance in the form of fried patongo, the Thai version of a doughnut, made of a sweet and salty dough that is deep fried and dipped in condensed milk ($6).
Lunch specials are $8.99. Dumpling bar prices range from $6.50-$21; small plates range from $6-$12; soups and salads range from $6.50-$16; bowls range from $13-$19; fried rice is $13-$18; Not Your Ordinary Joe’s range from $20-$26 and desserts are $6-$9.
Thai herbs and ingredients such as Thai chili, Thai basil, ginger, lemongrass, tamarind, and hard to find traditional herbs like blue hibiscus, will also find their way into drinks and specialty cocktails from beverage director Brad MacBeth. There will be a cocktail on tap along with others that use house-made juices and syrups.
Bangkok Joe’s is open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.