A pescatarian, a vegetarian,and a flexitarian* go out to dinner. No this is not the beginning of a joke. It is dinner out with my husband, my son, and my son’s girlfriend. Where to go where dietary considerations aren’t going to be a big deal? Thai X-ing in the Shaw neighborhood of DC has a completely vegetarian menu on Sunday nights. And if you’re like me and don’t fall into one of those “ian” categories, you’ll find that you aren’t missing a thing. In fact you may come to the startling conclusion, as I did, that the omission of meat can be refreshing.
We arrive at the restaurant, located in a townhouse, and are directed back outside to a basement entrance. Once inside, it feels as if we have just wandered into an intimate dinner party where we don’t know anyone. The room has a dark and homey feel. Most everyone looks up from their food to check out the new arrivals, and then quietly return to their meals. It feels slightly awkward, but not off-putting. We are seated next to the tiny open kitchen. For once, I am not over researched. I truly have no idea what to expect, and I am intrigued.
A server who speaks English with a heavy Thai accent brings us a bowl of taro chips. There is no menu. The only clues about what is to come are obtained by peering over to see what’s happening at the surrounding tables. We don’t ask many questions, partly because the server is saying very little to us. We don’t even think to mention food restrictions or preferences. Somehow I feel that questioning the ingredients or asking what lies ahead in our meal would categorize us as guests exhibiting rude behavior. GF has a mild allergy to peanuts, but says that she is fine with eating around them. I’m hoping we don’t have to interrupt our meal for a trip to the hospital. That would be a bad thing on so many levels.
Bowls of steaming lemongrass soup with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro are placed before each of us. The soup begins a journey through classic Thai flavor combinations…. sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Having no idea what lies ahead, I am faced with a decision about whether to finish the entire bowl. I throw caution to the wind, as it is too good to leave behind.
A refreshingly cool papaya salad arrives next. This is quickly followed by pumpkin curry, which we later unanimously decide is our favorite dish. There is a delicate balance between the sweet and the heat, and the remnants of the creamy sauce make a wonderful topping over rice.
Black mushroom with ginger and tofu features flavors that are sharp and distinct, with textural contrasts that add interest.
Pineapple and potato in a red curry sauce provide another opportunity to enjoy the expert balance of sweet against spicy. The red curry has a touch more fire than the yellow. It is a happy burn.
We are given a break from the heat with a delightful dish of tofu, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. It’s the perfect dish to alternate between bites of the hotter food.
We now have an array of dishes on the table, and I am perfectly content. But when noodle pad se yu is placed before us, I realize how welcome the noodles are as a complement to the saucy curry and vegetable dishes. I would prefer this to be served in the middle of the meal rather than the end, but it’s a minor detail.
My son hopes that the meal will conclude with the popular Thai dessert of mango and sweet sticky rice. His comment is met with the aptly timed delivery of the cool and comforting dish. It’s a perfect contrast to the collection of strong flavors that have preceded it.
The restaurant’s answering machine is on a small table behind us. Throughout the meal the phone rings, the machine picks up, and we are treated to the audible message… over and over again. It is annoying, but on the other hand it serves to accentuate Thai X-ing’s offbeat charm. I feel as if I’ve just been treated to a home-cooked meal and for $40 per person, I feel as if I’ve had a bargain to boot.
Our vegetarian feast leaves me pondering a word to describe my own eating habits. Something that ends in “ian” would be ideal. The word “foodarian” comes to mind. A Google search leads me to an abandoned blog titled “Chronicles of a Foodarian” along with a made up definition: foodarian (fōō’dâr’ē-ən) n. A person who participates, advocates, or supports the consumption, preparation, or production of high-quality, fortifying, earth-sustainable, and by no omission exquisite food regardless of its derivation from plant or animal.
I’ll take it, particularly since it’s so much more palatable than the word “foodie.” A pescatarian, a vegetarian, a flexitarian, and a foodarian go out to dinner. No joke… just a really great meal at Thai X-ing.
*A semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet is one that is mainly vegetarian-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products