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.
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.
Green-blue lights illuminate the oversized oceanic mural, hitting the paint in such a way that the tropical fish, coral, and whale seem to come to life. The underwater scene—complete with a sunken pirate ship—is the centerpiece of Tara Thai’s dining room, which accompanies décor such as a molded wave that spans the front of the bar, plates painted with colorful fish, and dangling lights fashioned to look like jellyfish.
With the aquatic ambience, you might make the mistake of thinking Tara Thai serves nothing but seafood. But in reality, dishes like fresh mussels with lemongrass and chili sauce are only part of the lineup of traditional Thai dishes. Those traditional offerings include the Chef recommended spicy roasted tofu and honey duck curry, as well as classics like crispy spring rolls which, despite their name, are served year-round.
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 .