Chef Seng Luangrath Goes Beyond Laotian Cooking at Baan Mae

The Southeast Asian small plates spot opens in Shaw this week.

Baan Mae is the latest venture of chef Seng Luangrath. Photograph by Andrew Noh.

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Baan Mae, 1604 Seventh St., NW; open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner.

Chef Seng Luangrath is personally responsible for the dramatic takeoff of DC’s Laotian food scene. In 15 years, she’s gone from sneaking a few of her home country’s dishes onto the menu of a Thai restaurant in Falls Church to running four authentic Lao restaurants that regularly get local and national attention.

Since she took over Bangkok Golden in Falls Church in 2010, Luangrath has made banana blossoms, unfiltered fish sauce, and crispy rice salad more visible and available throughout the city. She opened Thip Khao in Columbia Heights in 2014, and later rechristened Bangkok Golden as Padaek (it now has an Arlington sibling).

On Wednesday, June 19, Luangrath opens Baan Mae, a long-awaited small-plates restaurant in Shaw that pays homage to the welcoming spirit of Southeast Asian moms. The colorful eatery, with hanging paper lanterns, a diminutive backyard patio, and a neon-bright Laos-inspired mural, replaces Luangrath’s beloved but short-lived bar Hanumanh.

“My next focus is to step out of my comfort zone,” Luangrath says. “What I like about Baan Mae is it’s like a playground for me, where I step out of my homestyle cooking.”

Luangrath, who fled Laos during the Vietnam War and learned to cook in a Thai refugee camp, says she admires Burmese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Indonesian cooking as much as her own country’s cuisine, and will try to incorporate dishes and techniques from throughout the region into Baan Mae’s menu. No dishes will overlap with Thip Khao and Padaek.

Sakoo, dumplings made from tapioca flour, are returning from Hanumanh’s menu. Photograph by Andrew Noh.

There is spice-rich massaman curry, with its Malay Muslim roots; a crab curry with lychee and pea tendrils; and a plate of funky-sweet braised pork ribs. Past hits from Hanumanh show up, too, like gelatinous sakoo dumplings made from tapioca starch, and hua pii, a crunchy salad of banana blossom and jicama with tamarind sauce and shrimp. The kao jee pâté, Laos’s version of a banh mi, is a baguette sandwich with chicken paté, chili jam, and pickled vegetables. Shan tofu, a Burmese invention made with chickpea flour, is the main character in a few meatless dishes like sliders and vegan satay, and can be subbed in for other proteins in a few of the restaurant’s curries. 

Massaman curry, a Southern Thai dish, is one of Luangrath’s new menu additions. Photograph by Andrew Noh.

Though Baan Mae is less cocktail-focused than Hanumanh, there are a few simple concoctions, like the Mak Muang: mangoo purée, white rum, and chili.

Luangraths’s son, Boby Pradachith, helped lead the kitchen at Hanumanh, but he’s since moved away from the DC area. Baan Mae’s new culinary director, Nyi Nyi Myint, is Burmese, an in the future, Luangrath says, she wants to invite Southeast Asian moms to cook rotating dishes at the restaurant as part of a “supper club” project.

Ike Allen
Assistant Editor