As the most populous city in the world, Shanghai has been shaped by travelers and settlers from all over. This is particularly evident in the city's food, which has been influenced by the culinary styles from both the northern and southern regions of China, as well as dishes from throughout the entire continent of Asia. This cultural integration holds true at Shanghai Café, where the chefs use recipes the Hu family has spent the past half-century perfecting. These recipes follow various Shanghai cooking principles—for instance, the original flavors of meats and fish are allowed to shine through rather than being drowned out by heavy marinades or sauces that are too sweet or salty.
Though the recipes are traditional, they respect modern, healthful eating habits by incorporating natural broths and stocks and limiting the use of oil. Some of the restaurant's signature dishes include boiled dumplings, steamed pork buns, and dim sum—a Shanghai staple. In the spirit of Shanghai's pan-Asian tendencies, the menus also include Thai dishes, such as pad kee mao (drunken noodles), nigiri, sashimi, and maki.
Take three Thai friends with extensive knowledge of their native land's cuisine and drop them in suburban D.C. with a mission to reach the area's urban exiles, and you get something like My Thai Place. The restaurant is a seamless blend of the traditional and the contemporary: diners savor Thai dishes inspired by homemade recipes among sophisticated design elements such as high-backed wall booths and an ornamental chandelier. Servers in black ties usher over the popular chicken pad thai, which pairs well with drinks made by the skillful mixologists who stand behind the blue-lit bar or levitate above it on days when gravity is light.
The menu at ThaiDeelish Restaurant may not have chapters or a plot, but it has the heft and scope to rival many a novel. The pages overflow with the ingredients that give character to traditional Thai dishes: basil, pineapple, chili paste, and coconut. Most of the dishes move diners to bring out their Magic 8 Balls in order to decide among chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables and tofu, flavored with sauces of garlic and oyster or roasted chili. Predecided pairings include crispy pork with basil as well as honey-roasted duck with sautéed broccoli.
As diners sink their pitchforks into steaming jasmine rice or tangles of noodles, they can soak in the dining room’s atmosphere, made cheery by sunflower-yellow walls decorated with snapshots of flowers and temples .
Aiyara Thai Restaurant's menu transports taste buds to Bangkok with its arsenal of authentic flavors and spices. Chicken-satay skewers twirl into piquant peanut sauce ($5.95), and the grilled, marinated beef salad juggles red onions, scallions, and crisp lettuce ($7.95). Many entrees exist in vegetarian, seafood-spiked, or meat-married form, such as green-and-red curries ($7.95–$13.95), or the five-alarm pad phed pha, which combines eggplant, red pepper, Thai herbs, and fork-melting chili paste.
Though united by their name and a penchant for serving spicy Southeast Asian cuisine, each Sala Thai restaurant blazes its own culinary trail. Some dishes, such as the kee mao—flat rice noodles sautéed in hot chilis—sate diners' hungers at all locations, and other bites, such as M Street's red-curry pork with pineapple, can only be found in one place. To appease a variety of tastes, some locations also serve fresh, neatly rolled sushi. The Petworth, Bethesda, and U Street restaurants also calm customers' cravings for saxophone melodies and dark sunglasses worn indoors with live jazz performances on Fridays and Saturdays.
Filling a need in the District for appealing pan-Asian eats, the Satay Club has obviously struck a pleasing note with a broad spectrum of locals. Slipping in at lunchtime, patrons will find tables filled with students from nearby American University, business folks out for an inexpensive bite and neighborhood pals chatting over a plate of sushi or pad Thai. For the serious eater, the menu offers such offbeat dishes as Malaysian rendang, a spicy beef stew, and gado gado, a fan-favorite Indonesian salad with lots of steamed vegetables. More familiar dishes include bowls of ramen, Chinese lo mein noodles, and roasted Peking duck. For anyone who doesn’t have time to relax inside the long red-walled and wood-heavy eatery, online ordering and quick pick-up options are available.