We know what you’re thinking: Washington needs another pan-Asian restaurant like it needs another cicada invasion. But that hasn’t stopped Asia Nine owners Nuthinepan “Natalie” Tantivejakul and her chef husband, Boonrod “Rod” Yotmanee, from expanding from their more casual Alexandria restaurant, Rice and Spice. And it hasn’t stopped them from turning out flavorful renditions of Asian favorites in a modern Penn Quarter setting that incorporates splashes of glass tiles, zigzaggy metal sculptures, and a different color on just about every wall.
But the flashy interior belies the seriousness of Yotmanee’s cooking, which is all about the details. His hot tray—a trio of condiments that are made in-house—offers three silver pots holding freshly sliced red chilies floating in fish sauce; finger-hot green chilies swimming in vinegar; and powdered red chilies that he roasts and grinds himself. For a garnish on the mango and sticky-rice dessert, Yotmanee insists on a rigorous process of soaking mung beans overnight—taking care that they’re neither too soft nor not too hard—then frying them a few a time.
“That’s a lot of trouble for a garnish,” Tantivejakul jokes. But she knows she can trust the people who are feeding her guests—not only her husband but her brother-in-law, who used to work at Matuba and now runs Asia Nine’s sushi bar.
Asia Nine plans to compete with its counterparts by offering takeout, delivery (a rarity among fancier Asian restaurants), valet parking, 40 sakes (including two sparkling brews), and a weekday happy hour featuring half-price beer and wine from 4:30 to 7 PM. Tantivejakul says bento boxes, a raw bar, and brunch are also in the works.
Still, Tantivejakul isn’t one to leave things to chance. The restaurant was blessed by a Buddhist monk, and the symbol for the restaurant is the number nine in Thai, which she says signifies prosperity and forward movement for the Thai people.
Now, like any business owner, she’s just hoping the people will descend like, well, cicadas.