I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at 1511 17th St. NW. The vanilla colored town house was unassuming and plain, and there was no sign for the restaurant anywhere to be found. Little Serow wouldn't open until 5:30pm sharp and it was still 45 minutes until go time. Amazingly there were already 75+ people lined up at their front door and the temperature was a cold 37 degrees. When they opened there were at least another hundred more people in line behind me.
The city's foodies were so excited to eat at Little Serow! I kept hearing comments about how they were raving about this restaurant all over New York City and GQ magazine named it the “Most Outstanding Restaurant of 2013” in America.
They don’t take reservations so your only option is to show up early and wait. Once they open they process the patrons in line, so you either eat right away or they take your cell number and shoot you a text when your table is ready. I must admit I like how they don’t take reservations because the restaurant is so hot that you would have to book a reservation 6 months+ in advance. At least this way the dedicated diners have a fighting chance to eat there on any given day.
So was it worth the wait? Definitely! Little Serow serves northeastern Thai cuisine in a family style format that is prix fixe. During my visit they served me seven courses. What would you guess that a seven course meal served by a nationally acclaimed restaurant that is owned by renowned Chef Johnny Monis would cost you? The answer is a meager $45 (American).
When I entered the restaurant I felt like I was transported to another world. The space is tiny with only 28 seats and the walls are painted a striking aqua. The music playing was hard to describe, it was kind of like a “bubblegum pop” music. The staff was exceedingly friendly and gracious and their enthusiasm matched that of the foodies who were dying to dine there that evening.
Their food is really something special, particularly if you like spice. The theme of the first 6 dishes was definitely bright and pungent with a slow lingering heat. This is why they serve a tray of vegetables that are intended to cool your mouth down and cleanse your palate in between dishes. You can also utilize them as a wrapper or to scoop up food. A basket of sticky rice is also served with the meal and personally I like to ball up the rice so I could use it to soak up the sauces.
One of the early dishes was the Tom Kha Het. It offered an explosion of Thai flavors and it merged salt and sweet flavors perfectly. There was some earthiness from the mushrooms and galangal. The nice delicate lemongrass flavor that you expect in Thai soups was present, but it was a refined flavor that Monis brought to the dish that made it extraordinary.
Everything they served was excellent, but one of the more unusual dishes was the Bla Chorn Lom Kwan. It incorporated the snakehead fish, which is an invasive species that has been causing a lot of grief in Maryland and the Potomac River. It was my first time having it and I really enjoyed it. I was surprised that such an aggressive and destructive fish had so light and delicate a flavor. The dish itself was herbaceous and I could detect a hint of rind from the kaffir limes. And of course, the heat was present.
My favorite dish was the Naem Khao Tod. It had these little cubes of rice that were crunchy on the outside, but warm and tender on the inside. It was served with sour pork, onions and cilantro. The flavors were strong and aggressive and very enjoyable. By this point I was starting to sweat and get an endorphin rush from all the heat.
The final dish that evening was the Si Krong Muu. It was a plate of slow cooked pork ribs that were in a slightly sweet and vinegary sauce that had mekhong whiskey and dill in it. The ribs were very tender and a little smokey.
Little Serow is a truly unique dining experience and worth the time you spend in line. I think the value is impossible to beat and I would have gladly paid double the $45 price tag. If you love food and interesting dining experiences, then you will do yourself a service by going to Little Serow. My advice is to get in line as early as 4:30 pm, especially on the weekend.