When Thamee officially opens to the public next week in the former Sally’s Middle Name space on H Street NE, the owners of the Toli Moli bodega in Union Market hope to introduce a new audience to a culture of Burmese hospitality that takes on hyperbolic proportions.
Jocelyn Law-Yone, the Burma-born chef preparing a range of snacks, salads, noodles, and curry from her home country, says people in Burma don’t merely welcome their guests; they “pounce” on them with immediate offers of food. Simone Jacobson, Law-Yone’s daughter and a co-owner, says people from the Southeast Asian country draw from a “bottomless well of generosity.” Eric Wang, their business partner, has experienced it first-hand when he enters a meeting expecting to talk through a problem, but everyone has gone silent because Law-Yone is plying them with pomelo salad.
Together, the trio has spent two years refining their idea for what a full-service Burmese restaurant should look and feel like. Since the summer of 2016, when the partners secured a permanent spot to sell Law-Yone’s faloodas — layered desserts full of jellies, fruits, milks, and ice cream — out of the Northeast food hall, they’ve been careful about harnessing the popularity of their growing brand.
Now, after growing into a full-blown Burmese bodega in Union Market, they’ll also have a stage for Law-Yone to introduce the city to the flavors of her childhood in the Burmese capital of Rangoon. Thamee (1320 H Street NE) will host friends and family — and a few walk-ins — for discounted dinners on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, before opening the doors to everyone on Wednesday, May 15.
Toli Moli means “a little of this, and a little of that” in Anglo-Burmese, and that’s the best way for Law-Yone to describe the cooking from her home country, a former part of British India that also borders China, Thailand, Laos, and Bangladesh.
One thing that’s unmistakably Burmese is lahpet thoke, a salad made with a base of pressed, fermented tea leaves. In Burma, Law-Yone says, every house has a little jar of the leaves that’s presented to visitors as a courtesy. Thamee has arranged to source the tea leaves from a Burmese company, mixing them with a crunchy salad that includes sesame seeds, crispy broad beans, tomatoes, and cabbage. Other salads are built on respective bases of white flower mushrooms and sliced ginger.
Diners will detect Indian influence in masala-spiced fritters that cover pieces of shrimp and buthee (Burmese gourd) with a tempura-like batter. The accompanying dipping sauce that’s brimming with hot chiles and sour tamarind may feel more Thai.
“I’m encouraged to tone it up,” Law-Yone says of her cuisine’s bold flavors. “All the chefs are telling me, ‘Don’t just tap me on the shoulder, you know. I want you to punch me.’”
Mohinga, a lemongrass catfish curry that’s one of Burma’s most famous dishes, is served with thin somen noodles, paprika-dyed eggs, and a towering cracker made out of fried chickpeas.
Thamee has eased into service with a handful of ticketed dinners over the past few weeks, and Jacobson says one of the most popular dishes has been a pork belly curry that’s mixed with soft pieces of pickled mango, then garnished with sticks of the fresh fruit.
“There’s an expression [in Burma] where they say, of all the meats, pork is the best, and of all the fruits, mango is the best,” she says. “So it’s a sort of doubly food sacred dish. ... It’s culinary gold.”
There will be falooda for dessert, of course, as well as palata — Burmese paratha bread — topped with fresh fruit and tamarind-saffron ice cream from D.C. producer Ruby Scoops.
A “Burmese feast” option ($60) will feature four courses selected by the chef.
Thamee menu by on Scribd
A lineup of cocktails is full of nods to Burma, too. The most visually striking option is the deep purple Inle Negroni, named for a lake in Burma known for its dazzling colors. The drink infuses Rujero Singani, a Bolivian grape spirit, with butterfly pea flower for color and mixes in luxardo bitter and vermouth. The Bago Club (gin, curaçao, lime, house vermouth, house bitters) comes from a recipe that originated in a Rangoon club for the city’s colonial Anglo elites.
People familiar with Sally’s Middle Name, the well-regarded spot for small plates that closed in March, won’t feel like the restaurant has been totally transformed. The marble bar remains intact, and so the do the white tiles and sprawling blackboard wall.
In some ways, the new owners have hit the austere dining room with a highlighter. Jacobson collaborated with Kenyan-American artist Jamilla Okubo to design color-splashed tabletops patterned after Burmese tribal textiles. A large, copper sculpture reminiscent of fishermen’s nets in Inle Lake hangs from the ceiling and flows through the dining room. Family pictures of Law-Yone, Jacobson, and her other daughter sit next to a row of white teacups.
Thamee, which means “daughter” in Burmese, will also be an incubator for other producers and cooks. Jacobson expects to release a collaboration with D.C.-based, West African-influenced Sankofa Beer. The restaurant will typically be closed on Tuesdays but will use two of those nights per month to host pop-ups for forthcoming restaurants that represent the “Spice Diaspora” across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
Jacobson thinks her group’s diversity makes it uniquely poised to make people comfortable learning about Burmese food. She was born in the U.S. to a Burmese mother and an American, Jewish father from Pittsburgh. Her mom was born in Burma and moved to the United States in 1970. Wang is from Taiwan, has Japanese heritage, and moved to Virginia as a teen. Between the three of them, they understand a wide range of perspectives.
For Law-Yone, a former English and AP Art History teacher at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the restaurant represents a chance for her to be the ultimate host, to explain plates her friends know simply as “JoJo dishes” to a new wave of customers.
“I’m just excited to cook for new people and have a room full of people I can tell stories to,” Law-Yone says. “Eric’s sick of my stories, and Simone is sick of my stories. So now I have a new audience, and I can tell all my stories again.”
Thamee will be open six days a week (closed Tuesdays) from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch (9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) will begin on Monday, May 27, and run every Saturday and Sunday and on federal holidays. Website.
- The Crew Behind D.C.’s Burmese Bodega Will Replace Sally’s Middle Name [EDC]
- H Street Standby Sally’s Middle Name Announces It Will Close This Month [EDC]
- South Asian Eatery Toli Moli Branches Out With New Grocery Store [EDC]
- Burmese Pop-Up Toli Moli Is Here To Stay [EDC]
- A Burmese Salad Shop Opens in Georgetown [EDC]