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They called it the “Thang-In-Cheek.” This delicious cocktail, made with Belvedere vodka, lime juice, plum syrup, thai basil, and a splash of soda, stood in fitting tribute to the late Toki Underground chef Thang Le, who tragically passed away last month—-just days before he was scheduled to cook at a much-anticipated Vietnamese-themed pop-up event, dubbed “Pho U,” at Montserrat House.
Initially postponed in the wake of Le’s untimely death, the three-night series of dinners finally kicked-off last night at Eric and Ian Hilton‘s artsy event space on 9th Street NW. The first seating at 7 p.m. was completely full, so my dining companions and I decided to have a few drinks at the bar before eventually landing some seats around 8 p.m. By the time we left, about an hour later, there were still people waiting outside for a table.
Acquaintances of the fallen chef, who were also seated at our table, talked a lot about what a kind, cool and creative person he was, as DJ Brian Liu played Shuggie Otis and Curtis Mayfield over the crowded and gently buzzing room. Pictures from Soul Rebel, a Govinda Gallery show featuring David Burnett‘s photos of Bob Marley, hung on the walls.
Chefs from the Hilton brothers’ Marvin restaurant, James Claudio and Brendan L’Etoile, served heaping portions of pho to diners, but three other dishes stood out. The cha gio, crispy pork and shrimp spring rolls, were delicious, dipped in a spicy, fish sauce-based condiment. The two bun (vermicelli noodle) dishes, one with chargrilled pork and the other with steak cooked similarly, disappeared far too soon. The marinade on the meats, and that specialty cocktail dedicated to Le, had me thinking about a follow-up visit before the event ends its run on Saturday night. Service was exponentially smoother than at most pop-ups, which can be notoriously chaotic and character-less.
The elements came together to give a somber occasion the feeling of a heartfelt celebration. The dinners resume tonight and again on Saturday, beginning both nights at 7 p.m. Reservations are not needed. Proceeds from all three nights will be donated to the Le family.
Montserrat House, 2016 9th Street NW, www.montserrathouse.com
Photo by Sam Hiersteiner