Padaek Restaurant Review: The Arlington location is something special

Even a fast learn of my work ought to inform you that I often eat at a restaurant a number of instances earlier than I inform you about it. A number of visits not solely allowed me to discover the scope of the menu, but in addition put me in several components of the eating room, put me within the fingers of various servers and located me subsequent to a variety of fellow prospects. Think about, for instance, if I went only one time and the chef was out, or the signature dish wasn’t out there, or the server was double-working, or I landed subsequent to an attention-grabbing social influencer. Totally different meals reveal the restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses, its rhythms and priorities.

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I’ll share somewhat secret. Within the case of the brand new Padaek restaurant in Arlington, I could not await seconds and thirds of the bottom hen salad referred to as larb, a staple on Thai and Laotian menus that generally contains floor meat or tofu and at all times will get its load of lime juice. Pink pepper and lemon. A balancing act is an effective check for a kitchen, one which this spinoff from the attraction of the identical identify in Falls Church passes with flying Technicolors.

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Larb is a mix of juicy hen, toasted rice powder, the fermented fish sauce that provides badak its identify, and Chef Singh Luangrath’s favourite herb, lemongrass. Galangal—paying homage to recent ginger when younger and extra peppery because it ages—lends its spark to salads, too. That is meals that places your style buds in full consideration. (“Stay!” I texted myself the primary time I ate it.) Nearly anybody can style the enjoyable, because the salad, like a number of dishes right here, can also be served gluten-free and/or vegan. The larb is accompanied by a small basket of aromatic sticky rice, from which you kind bite-sized balls together with your fingers and palms and dip them within the sauce on the plate. The method is not as messy as you suppose, as a result of the grains have a tendency to stay collectively reasonably than your hand.

Padaek Arlington Ridge is the chef’s largest restaurant up to now, with 150 seats unfold throughout an inviting courtyard and a number of rooms inside, considered one of which is crammed with artwork and excellent for particular events. Luangrath says she designed her newest restaurant along with her Laotian grandmother’s house in thoughts, so there are homely touches all through the light-filled inside. Customized-made baskets from the mom nation line the cabinets, and painted flowers and birds draw the attention to the kitchen tiles and desk tops. Rattan lights hanging from the ceiling and wooden accents heat the area. Padaek does his finest to make you neglect that you’re eating in a suburban mall. There aren’t any reside chickens, as there have been exterior Grandma’s home, however the inexperienced of banana and coconut leaves fills the inside.

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My eyes saved darting from what was on my plate to the younger chef within the open kitchen. Loangrath, 54, advised me she spends seven days per week at her new place, and in my 4 visits over two months, she was at all times watching over me, a hands-on coach for her group. Thai entrees are all class acts. The dense however yielding fish desserts emphasize her love of lemongrass, which does not disguise the presence of recent dill and lemon leaves within the floor catfish. Steamed padek dumplings with hen and shrimp, frivolously sure with egg white to carry the filling collectively and topped with a wave of delicate fried garlic on prime and a dip of black soy sauce, vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns (therefore the tongue buzz). Possibly you do not eat meat. Possibly you could possibly get pleasure from consuming cubes of tofu, frivolously dusted with potato starch and fried till the skin is crackly however the inside is comfortable like a marshmallow. A refined peanut and tamarind sauce provides depth to the simplicity.

As within the unique Padaek, this weaves Laotian flavors into the textual content. The equal of larp—a dish I can eat each time and by no means tire of—is a salad of coconut fried rice combined with funky pork sausage (or tofu), chili peppers, peanuts, sharp onions, and a bunch of recent herbs. “Have you learnt tips on how to eat it?” the server asks as she locations the pile in entrance of us. We nod. The jam session is poured into lettuce leaves, chilly, and eaten shortly and greedily like a wrap.

Om is one other distinctive Laotian dish, which is a stew made with tropical herbs and thickened with sticky rice. Diners select one of many signature elements (I ordered tofu, however hen, pork and beef are choices), which explode with meaty mushrooms and inexperienced eggplant within the steaming crimson bowl.

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With only some dishes on the menu, the distinction between Thai and Laotian cooking is sharply emphasised. Whereas the delicacies shares lots of the identical elements, Laotian meals is just not as candy or bitter as Thai meals, and is extra herbal-based and never as heavy. For instance, each Thailand and Laos serve papaya salad, however the Laotian model brings the “funk” not solely with the anticipated dried fish sauce, but in addition with crab paste and pungent shrimp.

The kitchen makes superb beef jerky. Marinated with ginger, garlic and sesame seeds, the meat is a delicate showcase of warmth and spice mirrored by a calibrated scorching sauce over a liquid hearth. In Laos, meat is dried within the solar; At Padaek, the meat is fried simply earlier than you get it, and because of this it turns into juicier and fewer chewy. The pork skewers, the principle course, are so massive, the constructions seem like they got here from Gold’s Health club. The truth is, they’re infused with a marinade that makes them candy, spicy, and gently crunchy from their time on the grill. Laos is a landlocked nation, however is wealthy in rivers from which catfish are caught. Padaek pan-fries Chesapeake catfish and buries the garnish in tangy mint, sharp crimson onions, and crunchy bell peppers. Dip a chunk of scorching fish into the accompanying chili sauce and watch the sparks (and forks) fly.

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Whereas she grew up in a family with roughly 20 family, Loangrath says her early cooking reminiscences had been principally of grinding herbs to arrange fundamental meals. It wasn’t till the Communists took it over that it was Her household fled Laos within the early Nineteen Eighties and spent two years in a refugee camp in northeastern Thailand. Loangrath says what she is aware of about cooking she gleaned from fellow refugees, classes she put to good use when her household moved to the US, first to the San Francisco Bay Space, the place she grew to become the longer term chef. Because the eldest daughter of working dad and mom, she was tasked with making ready meals at house. .

Luangrath likes to experiment. Its extensions make up the chef’s specials, together with merely cooked crab noodles, a mixture of a dish I had at a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco and a Thai recipe for mee sua. Skinny yellow noodles combined with Chinese language celery and shiitake mushrooms, topped with garlic butter and completed with chunks of candy crab. The invention is barely smoky, slippery in texture, and really wealthy – a robust differentiator between the Padaek and the competitors.

If there is a letdown right here, it is the pad thai moon goong with jumbo prawns, which tastes like a number of pad thai on this nation: candy. Including somewhat lemon juice and a few toasted rice powder on the desk will enhance the consuming.

So do cocktails. “I will use no matter is within the kitchen,” says Sunny Phanavichai, the restaurant’s bar supervisor, a task she beforehand performed at Thip Khao, her boss’s in style restaurant within the area, and for the Daykaya Group. Pandan leaves add a refined vanilla and coconut contact to an Previous Normal made with outdated rum The banana and tamarind cream is a sweet-and-sour punch in a smoky twist with mezcal on a margarita, edged crimson with salty tomatoes. Most balanced drinks value $14, and I applaud the worth of the corkage price as properly. Restaurant friends can deliver their very own bottle of wine to Padaek for simply $15.

Padaek Arlington Ridge is the chef Fifth Meals Company. Luangrath additionally revived Sen Khao Expressway in Tysons, which was closed throughout the pandemic, and the late Laotian Hanumanah’s watering gap in Shu. Certainly one of my favourite locations to open in 2019, this newest area is predicted to tackle a brand new identification this winter: Baan Mai or “Mom’s Home” in Laos. The upcoming restaurant will embrace the flavors of her homeland, in addition to Myanmar (also referred to as Burma), Thailand and Vietnam — “something I really feel like,” says Luangrath.

One thing tells me it may take a number of visits till I can eat via the menu earlier than I inform you about it.

2931 S. Glebe Rd, Arlington. 703-888-2890. Open midday to 3pm and 4 to eight:30pm Sunday to Thursday and midday to 3pm and 4 to 9pm Friday and Saturday. the costs: Appetizers are $7 to $15, and principal programs are $15 to $23. Sound verify: 73 dB / should be spoken loudly. Accessibility: There aren’t any boundaries to entry; ADA compliant restrooms.

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