Kid Sister Grows Up: Johnny Monis’ Little Serow on 17th Street

by December 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm 2,847 0


Johnny Monis’ Little Serow restaurant is in the basement at 1511 17th Street NW near Komi. (Matt Rhoades)

From Ashley Lusk. Check out Ashley’s blog Metropoetrylis and find her on Twitter at @arlusk. You can email her at [email protected].

Sometimes a gift isn’t about getting a toy that will sit on a shelf, but rather an experience, an adventure, or in this case a taste of something special. I had a chance to visit Little Serow, the “little sister” of Johnny Monis’ Komi on 17th Street NW.  Like its sibling, Little Serow is a prix fixe menu and at $45 it is definitely reserved for a special occasion.

Finding the restaurant requires knowing where to find Komi — Serow is tucked underneath the formidable restaurant, a couple of doors north — and is in need of a blue light, a la PX Lounge. The mood of Monis’ second location is sparse — it is sea foam green underground with hushed lighting and industrial place settings. The all-female waitstaff has precise uniforms — vintage small-print dresses with tights and oxfords. And the open kitchen is situated in the back of the long room like a bartender keeping watch over its regulars.

The Isaan-style Thai menu changes weekly and is served family style on small plates. Accompanying the dishes are basic vegetables like cabbage, radicchio and cucumbers, plus truly sticky rice to act as utensils for the meal.  As for drinks, the menu has beer (traditional Thai beer, as well as German offerings), red, white and sparkling wines, and the rather lesser known ice wine, which is offered as the pairing recommendation to the meal.

During my trip to Little Serow we tasted seven dishes, in addition to a small dessert bite. We started with crispy pork rinds with a duck liver pate — a flavorful kick of heat from the pork rinds sets the tone for the meal. If you’ve been to a Thai restaurant you will know that the spicy entrees typically served to Americans have been quietly toned down. Opinions differed at our tables as to the level of heat in the dishes at Little Serow, particularly the catfish dish; some thought it was mouth-searing in its chili flavor, others thought it only mildly spicy.

Komi Restaurant on 17th Street NW in DC

Little Serrow is a creation of Komi’s Johnny Monis. (Matt Rhoades)

Our second and third dishes were served simultaneously — two salads: eggplant and pickled garlic, and ground catfish, shallots and chilies. The fourth dish brought a pleasant coolness — a lemongrass shrimp salad with lime leaf — only to raise the stakes again with a heavily herb-infused pork sausage as the fifth dish.

Perhaps the singularly most appreciated portion of the meal was a charred and hammered beef — sweet in its flavor. And finally, a moist, on-the-bone pork rib — listed on the menu as having tamarind and ginger flavors, but ultimately rather bland.

The waitress brought a final dish — a cube of sticky rice and coconut paste with toasted sesame. A simple conclusion to an uncomplicated meal.

The meal is meant to be a celebration of Thai cuisine, but that seems secondary here in its very American setting. Little Serow is, as one of my tablemates noted, a bit like an underground playground for Monis, a place for him to practice and enjoy doing daring things he can no longer do at his established Komi. It is adult dining, but contains a mischievous nod towards the kids’ table. I look forward to seeing Little Serow in its evolution.

Bottom line: Any meal that is $45 per person should be wrapped ceremoniously and enjoyed with much appreciation. Since Monis’ plating and location are both devoid of ceremony, you can be glad that the flavor of his food is not.

Little Serow

  • Where Am I Going? 1511 17th Street NW (beneath Komi, two doors north).
  • When Am I Going? Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 pm.
  • Delivery? Haha.
  • Paycheck Pain? $45 per person.
  • Say What?  Quite loud for a space that only holds about 20 people.
  • What You’ll Be Eating:  Isaan-style Thai family meal on tapas-sized plates.



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