D.C. Restaurants Are a Family Affair
By January 23, 2019 0 627•
Upon stepping into Thai Chef Street Food, diners are transported across the globe to a bright, neon-lit restaurant inspired by dishes and designs iconic to lively night markets in Bangkok.
The whimsical eatery at 1712 Connecticut Ave. NW, which turned one year old in June, is run by Bangkok natives Pornnapa Pongpornprot and her oldest daughter, Chalisa.
An ornate metal sculpture, featuring a clock surrounded by Thai-inspired trinkets and artifacts, welcomes guests upon arrival. In addition to telling time, the handmade piece by a New York designer from Bangkok doubles as one of the top Instagrammed elements across the soaring two-story space, splashed in orange and turquoise tones.
Chalisa just got back from a trip to her homeland, her first visit in five years. The 20-hour plane ride had a productive purpose: to do “research” for her menu in D.C. by eating her way through the bustling capital’s endless stream of day and night street markets. She had some pretty solid tour guides — her grandma, aunt and uncle, who are based there.
During her eight-day stint, she snapped a ton of pictures and made mental notes of what she ate that will serve as inspiration for several incoming dishes at Thai Chef. One is a tamarind fried prawn dish served atop white rice that will soon swim onto the menu. Another is a deconstructed wrap featuring a platter of lettuce, thin noodle squares, ground pork and a garnish that diners can assemble themselves at the table.
Since opening last year, Thai Chef’s best- sellers are its Crying Tiger steak entrée and beef and noodle soup; Chalisa tasted various versions of the hit soup while walking around the sea of stalls in Bangkok. She’s prepared to sell even more in the new few months. “Noodle soups are our best-sellers throughout the winter,” she says.
Quaint 50-seat bistro Chez Billy Sud has commanded large crowds since opening up inside the former Café La Ruche space at 1035 31st St. NW in 2014. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema soon put it on even more radars, crowing that the romantic French eatery was a welcome addition to Georgetown’s dining scene.
But not many know the bistro has become a mother-son affair. Chef Brendan L’Etoile, who got his culinary start by washing dishes during high school for the catering company of his mom, Lilienne Conklin, helped recruit her as pastry chef about two years ago. She was one of his first harsh critics, suggesting he play around with the sautéed trout. He decided to keep the buttery skin in place, and it’s been a best-seller ever since.
Conklin’s own innovative sweets stray from typical French endings such as crème brûlée. Her champagne panna cotta (with blood orange, passion fruit, pain d’épices and vanilla meringue) stayed on menus since its appearance on a former New Year’s Eve menu.
Another longtime menu item under L’Etoiles’s watch is the hit confit de canard (crispy mulard duck leg, spinach, pomme rösti and shiitakes). His mom has expanded her reach to the Hilton brothers’ family of restaurants; she also makes desserts such as an ice cream brownie sandwich and a parsnip cake with cream cheese frosting at Shaw’sGaslight Tavern.
Patriotic deli Bub and Pop’s at 1815 M St. NW, owned by star chef Jonathan Taub and his mom Arlene Wagner, draws steady lines for its affordable deli fare. A graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Taub has worked with Michelin- starred chefs Jean-Marie Lacroix and Alain Ducasse. At Bub, he’s created a dressed-down menu of hit sandwiches that have lured the likes of Guy Fieri.
Taub’s brother, Air Force Staff Sgt. Peter Taub, who was tragically killed in 2015 in Afghanistan, is celebrated via a sandwich called the Hebrew Hammer (corned beef, Swiss cheese, spicy mustard, Thousand Island dressing and cole slaw).
The family is from Philly, and a roast pork sandwich naturally pays homage to the Super Bowl-winning Eagles. The porchetta creation, with broccoli rabe sautéed with hot cherry peppers, is now dubbed the Philly Special. Late last year, they brought back a fan favorite: handmade sea salt and black pepper potato chips. It’s also easy to eat and drink for cheap; happy hour is 3 p.m. until closing on weekdays and beer runs $3 with a sandwich.