Burmese Restaurant Thamee Is Highlighting Chefs of Color Through Its New Pop-Up Dinner Series

Try Hawaiian fusion and Japanese comfort food in the coming weeks

Rooted+Bloomed's spam musubi. Photo by Helen Yu.

After expanding from a Union Market stall to their own full-service restaurant, the team behind Burmese eateries Thamee and Toli Moli has kicked off pop-up “supper clubs” from up-and-coming chefs.

Hosted in the Thamee space on H Street Northeast, the events intend to highlight cuisines from what co-owner Simone Jacobson likes to call the “spice diaspora” (including Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America). Jacobson says the idea is to give a much-needed platform to DC chefs of color who may lack access to significant funding.

“What people of color need most is time, space, and opportunity,” Jacobson says. “It’s kind of difficult when you’re not working with a big investment group or personal funding.”

Thamee has already hosted three supper clubs (ranging from Taiwanese street food to Middle Eastern fare), which sold out nearly immediately. Next up: Hawaiian specialties from Rooted+Bloomed on June 18 and Japanese comfort food from Otabe on June 25. Both menus—highlight family-style food the chefs grew up eating—include a light appetizer, five main dishes, and dessert. Jacobson says the restaurant is aiming for two pop-ups each month with tickets ranging from $50 to $70.

Rooted+Bloomed, which recently joined the Village at Leesburg’s food incubator, ChefScape, features the inherent fusion in Hawaiian cooking. Founder and owner Vanessa Maneja, who is Filipina and was born and raised in Hawaii, wants to explore the multitude of influences on the islands’ food, from Puerto Rican to Portuguese to Japanese. Her tasting menu for Tuesday’s pop-up includes dishes like taro and maitake croquettes and a snap pea and sea asparagus salad.

“Us locals, we kind of take it further back, and we don’t even call it fusion,” says Maneja, who formerly co-owned the Abunai food truck. “It’s really unique to us.”

Otabe’s okonomiyaki pancake. Photo by David Ortiz.

Otabe, owned and founded by Masako Morishita, serves Japanese comfort food (no, not ramen). Morishita, whose family in Kobe, Japan, owns an 85-year-old bar and restaurant, grew up steeped in the traditions of the cuisine. “Otabe” is a word used by a mother encouraging her children to eat, Morishita says, and the sentiment inspires her homey style of cooking. The tasting menu includes dishes like okonomiyaki, a type of savory pancake, and karaage, which Morishita says is “totally different from American fried chicken” because the poultry is fried using only potato starch and oil.

Morishita, who moved to DC six years ago, previously partnered with her former boyfriend Andrew Chiou on the catering company M’s Kitchen and yakitori restaurant Momo Yakitori. (According to Washington City Paper, she recently sued her ex for unpaid wages and other expenses amid the personal and business breakup.) Otabe is her first independent venture, and the upcoming supper club is her first time creating and hosting a tasting menu on her own.

Jacobson says the pop-ups are a way to give back after all of the support she, her mother/chef Jocelyn Law-Yone, and their business partner, Eric Wang, received while growing their business. Thamee also opened with the help of a loan from the Latino Economic Development Center, which supports small businesses of color.

“So many people opened their kitchens, their homes, and their hearts to us,” Jacobson says.

Katrina Schmidt
Editorial Fellow

Katrina Schmidt joined Washingtonian as an editorial fellow in 2018. She is from Baltimore, Maryland, and currently lives in Burleith.