Mandalay -- who are you really? It's kind of a mysterious place. This new Burmese restaurant opened a few months ago in the Shaw neighborhood of DC with very little press. What makes it mysterious is that there is another very low-key casual restaurant with the same name and owners in Silver Spring, Maryland, but they have completely different websites that do not link to one another, making it impossible to make the connection unless you are "in the know." I dined at the Maryland Mandalay a long, long time ago and thought it was great casual fare. But, upon arriving at the new Mandalay in DC, it was clear that this was a completely different concept.
This 100-seat semi-upscale restaurant features small plates and a bar atmosphere on the bottom floor and a 7-course tasting menu for $70 on the top floor, by reservation only. Owned and operated by a Burmese family, Aung Myint is the restauranteur and chef behind both of the restaurants and he is clearly proud of his new venture and trying to work out all the kinks. So I made a reservation for two on City Eats and was surprised to hear from the restaurant almost immediately. They require 24-hour notice of vegan diners and immediately wanted to be sure they understood my dietary needs before shopping for the next day's meals. They start preparing the courses before noon so they appreciate the advance notice, they said.
We arrived on a Friday night in a quiet neighborhood in Shaw. The building looks like an office building more than a restaurant. Inside, it was quite dark and once we found the host, we were escorted up the steps into a large open dining area. It had a really nice feel to it with dark wood floors, soft white lighting, and nicely upholstered booths and armchairs. All of the tables were spaced out nicely as to allow quite a bit of privacy.
Our waitress asked if we wished to try the pairings -- either alcoholic or not. I went with alcoholic, while my friend went with non-alcoholic. They said they'd be crafting the drinks to fit the courses. There was no menu for food as it was more of a chef's tasting style so we just sat back and waited to see what arrived. They started us off with a very nice green tea. Then, the first course arrived -- two Roman bean fritters with a spicy sauce. They were soft and delicate and had amazing flavor. But, for a fried appetizer, one would have been enough. Unfortunately, they were so good that we each ate both of them, then regretted it later! Oh, and I should mention the carrots carved into decorative leaves are hand carved and pretty impressive. With this I had a nice dry Vermouth with sparkling wine.
Next, was a fantastic cabbage salad with ginger, fried garlic, and peanuts in a light dressing. It was ten times more exciting than it looks in this picture.
For the third course, we were served a hearty split pea, potato, okra, and eggplant soup. It was great, but needed a little more spice.
The next drink was a cocktail of Malibu rum, cointreau, and lemon juice to accompany the next few courses. The fourth and fifth course were served together. It was at this point that we really realized this was way too much food for a 7-course meal. This was a full entree in and of itself. On one side of the plate, there was an okra and eggplant dish in a spicy jalapeno sauce. It actually didn't have much flavor. On the other side of the plate was this delicious tofu dish with onions and potatoes. It was very good. And they supplied me with some hot peppers to spice it up. We took a few bites and had the rest wrapped up as we still had more courses to go!
For the sixth course, we had mung bean threads with cabbage and red pepper. The pickled veggies on the side really made this dish.
And finally, a dessert cocktail of rum, ale, and brown sugar was served with fried banana spring rolls with a coconut sauce. This was a bit too much fried food and too much banana for me, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it.
At the end of the meal, for not having high expectations upon arrival, I have to say we were pretty impressed. The food was great even though there was way too much of it. But that just gave us leftovers for the weekend! The service was pretty good and having the chef come out to speak to us was a nice touch. They even mentioned that the vegan menu is discounted to $50 on Wednesdays, which is an incentive to come out on a weeknight. The alcoholic drink pairing is $30 while the non-alcoholic is $15. For $70, it was well worth the money. I'm sold. And now I want to come back and try it on a Wednesday as well!
1501 9th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001