Part of a larger, international chain, Mango Tree arrived in D.C. at the beginning of 2015. Within four months, opening chef Paul Kennedy left, leaving sous chef Adrian Salazar alone with the reigns. With previous experience at Zentan, Salazar welcomed the opportunity to showcase his cooking abilities.
Why We Came: Lavish in its appearance, if there is one place a new restaurant wants to open to attract the posh crowd it would be CityCenterDC. Other restaurant transplants include Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar and Laurent Halasz’s Fig & Olive. Pitted against celebrity names, we were interested to see just what Adrian had up his sleeve, new menu and all.
Who's in Charge: Founder and CEO Pitaya Phanphensophon is the main player as his spotlight on Thai food has opened the world’s eyes to the elevated side of Thai cuisine. With locations in Bangkok, Tokyo, and London to name a few, D.C. is one of the chain’s newest locations. However, general manager Robert Hall runs the show in the district. Under his direction, the restaurant is developing an innovative bar program to coincide with its creative menu.
The Look: The restaurant provides an open feel as on most days the doors downstairs are left open to welcome the throngs of tourists streaming past. A bit more casual, the wrap-around bar on the first floor hosts a few tables with additional patio furniture contributing to its headcount. Upstairs is accessible by a short flight of stairs or elevator. Dimly lit, provides a sensual feel that is further captured with its beautiful dinnerware.
The Vibe: People are here to be seen, not heard. The chatter is light, the dishes elegant, and the background music alluring. Alluring to what? For you to stay longer and enjoy another cocktail as you watch through enormous windows at D.C.’s bustling new playground.
The Crowd: Food-lovers, date-night seekers, and Thai cuisine lovers. Most tourists choose to have a drink at the bar as the upper location is mainly for dining guests. There is a dress code of business/business casual; yet the downstairs area is bit more lax.
Service: The servers are there to do their job. If sitting downstairs, ask for Ty, he’s funny and attempts to tailor your drink to your personality. Dining upstairs? Make sure to ask for Jessica. She is bubbly, adorable, and concerned about your experience throughout its entirety.
What to Drink: If you haven’t heard of Frank Jones, you should. His name is synonymous with The Gibson, a speakeasy that has made palate-shattering cocktails for the last three years. So it is of no surprise that Mr. Jones makes guest appearances each week. The Thai Tea-ni is a classic with its Meyer’s dark rum and strong Thai iced tea; but without the presence of ice, each ingredient is intensified without being overly sugary. Before you leave, sometime during your meal you must try a Purgatory Ember. Spicy hellfire bitters and peppercorn syrup give this cocktail its kick. Additionally, a deep, rich smokiness comes from Mezcal Vago Elote displaying hints of corn and finishing with notes of sweet papaya as well as aromatic mint. Combined with the acidity and tartness from pineapple and pineapple juice, savor each sip as you’ll want to gulp it down quickly.
What to Eat: Thai is an intricate cuisine that showcases umami (savory) with its ability to provide sourness, sweetness, saltiness, and bitterness. Chef Salazar took us on an appetizing journey with the following dishes.
Tired of Brussels sprouts? Before you give up on them try kalam savoey. Paired with citrusy lime juice and robust fish sauce, the roasted Brussels sprouts are tossed with small bits of tender, honeyed pork and coconut milk.
Dining with a vegetarian? No problem. The tow hoo tod is a perfect selection by keeping the ingredients simple. Frying the tofu twice to provide much needed texture, it is then drizzled with a robust peanut coconut sauce topped with fresh greens including green onion and red leafed lettuce.
Yum lin wua is as tender as steak. Slightly charred beef tongue is flavored with bits of herbaceous cilantro, chili-lime dressing, and topped with thinly sliced onions. This dish is for those who aren’t too adventurous but don’t want to alienate themselves during the meal.
What's the Score: Mango Tree DC is a welcomed part of the CityCenterDC community. For those who want an elevated take on Thai food outside of Pad Thai this is the one of best places to indulge in the city. Although the service can be spotty at times, the food speaks volumes under chef Adrian Salazar’s direction. An attractive space that pays homage to Thailand, you won’t be disappointed no matter what you choose to order. However, if Thai cuisine is out of your comfort zone, definitely try their cocktail menu as we can’t wait to see how it continues to develop.
Jai Williams is The Daily Meal D.C’s. photographer, Editor-in-Chief at Girl Meets Food, as well as a freelance culinary photographer whose work has been published by Globe Pequot Press a part of Rowman & Littlefield. You can follow her on Twitter @januarijai, on Instagram @januarijaimedia or visit her website.