After serving Thai food for 17 years at Rice Restaurant on 14th Street NW, Sak Pollert is passing the wok to Washingtonians eager to experiment in their home kitchens. Earlier this month, the restaurateur quietly opened a boutique Asian market on the lower level of his restaurant. Rice Market carries fresh and packaged ingredients, grab-and-go meals, meal kits, flowers, home goods, cookbooks, and a selection of beer, wine, and sake.
“It’s always been my dream to do the market,” Pollert says. “In the early days when we did the restaurant, it was the world before YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Cooking Thai was not something that was happening then. But because of social media, Food Network, and people traveling so much, D.C. has changed. Now everyone is back from vacation where they took a cooking glass in Thailand. They want to know where to find kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and Thai chili peppers.”
In recent years, the Northern Thailand native has been hooking up regular Rice Restaurant customers with such ingredients, saving those without access to a car a trip to international markets in the D.C. suburbs. When requests increased, he knew it was time to finally launch the market he’s been planning for five years.
The grocery section is heaviest on Thai ingredients, followed by Japanese and Chinese essentials. Pollert says he hopes to add a selection of Korean sauces and Indian spices. His goal was to not overwhelm customers with too many choices. That’s why you’ll find one or two soy sauce varieties, instead of a whole aisle like at H Mart. Visitors can also purchase rice and noodles, jars of fried garlic, curry pastes, tamarind concentrate, coconut milk, rice vinegar, tempura flakes, and salad dressings.
Look for some of the most popular Asian beers from Beerlao and Singha to Orion and a new Japanese beer from Hokkaido Brewing Company that just became available in the U.S. Start with the yuzu lager or peach white ale. Sake, plum wine, cocktail mixers, wines that pair well with Thai cuisine, and Champagne are also available.
There are several ways to pick up meals from Rice Market. There will soon be a menu of hot food that can be packaged to-go. Pollert says to expect slightly different dishes from Rice Restaurant, including a daily special curry. There’s also a made-to-order sushi counter. Pollert is also involved in Pantry Thai in Petworth, which sells sushi. The menu includes standard and speciality rolls, sashimi, and chirashi.
In the refrigerated section, there are packaged curries and noodle dishes that only require reheating, meal kits that contain everything but the protein and the pan, and house-made bottled curry and noodle sauces (including vegan versions). The market is designed for home cooks of all levels, whether they’re making dishes from scratch, following instructions in one of the meal kits, or just pressing buttons on the microwave. The price drops depending on how much labor is involved—meal kits cost less than prepared food, for example.
In addition to ingredients and prepared food, the market sells a selection of cookbooks. Some will aid customers in their Thai cooking adventures, and others are signed by local authors and chefs. Customers can also grab a Rice Market tote bag Pollert designed, tableware, candles, gifts, and cooking equipment.
Pollert brokered a partnership with local florist Sarah von Pollaro. Keep an eye out for her arrangements, which can be pre-ordered online. Her work has adorned the Kennedy Center, State Department, and Library of Congress. “We wanted to do some flowers that are different from supermarket flowers at a reasonable price,” Pollert says. He’s supporting other small local businesses by stocking Little Wild Things salad mix and Runningbyrd Tea.
At the back of Rice Market is a full kitchen and dining room table that seats six, which Pollert will utilize for intimate Thai cooking classes once the pandemic is no longer a threat.
Rice Market is currently open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Pollert says they may expand the hours in the future, depending on demand. He estimates that the market is currently 75 percent stocked. They’ll have a grand opening in a couple of weeks when all merchandise arrives.
Rice Market, 1608 14th St.NW (lower level); ricedc.com/market