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Pesce Chef Shuts Down His Short-Lived Southeast Asian Spot in Capitol Hill

Phing Tham closes above Bullfrog Bagels in Eastern Market

Curry at Phing Tham
Curry at Phing Tham.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Phing Tham, the months-old Southeast Asian restaurant serving salads, curries, and charcoal-grilled meats and seafood, has closed above Bullfrog Bagels in Capitol Hill. The chef behind Dupont Circle seafood go-to Pesce recently pulled the plug on the project devoted to “unapologetically spicy” food he grew up eating as the son of a diplomat.

Chef Andrew LaPorta first entered the second-story space for a Pesce Too pop-up. In October, he opened Phing Tham with hopes of establishing a more permanent presence. It operated from Wednesday to Sunday nights at 317 Seventh Street SE.

“While I firmly believe in the food and concept it was untenable under current conditions,” LaPorta says in a statement. “The food was very near and dear to my heart, and will not be forgotten any time soon. I think of it as a hibernation.”

Phing refers to the traditional grilling method. Tham is the tonal sound of salads mixed with a mortar with pestle. “We are presenting both in their most basic and delicious forms,” read a chalkboard sign outside.

The self-described “diplo-brat” was born in Malaysia and spent a good amount of his life traipsing across Indonesia and Thailand. His wife, who is from Laos, contributed curry expertise and did much of the prep work at home.

The menu offered an array of cuisines (Lao, Thai, Vietnamese) and price points ($8 to $21). Popular orders over its short run included octopus with a honey-chile glaze and a bowl of LaPorta’s Chinese sausage with clams. He was especially proud of the tray of sauces that accommodated dishes.

“It was a true labor of love, my love for the many and varied sauces of the region,” he says. “All were home-made and enhanced the cuisine in ways that is rarely seen at more traditional venues.”

Palate-cooling cocktails from mixologist Sarah White included a Southwest x Southwest blending kaffir lime, coconut, and whiskey for $10.

While Phing Tham is done for now, the experimental kitchen plans to make pop-up appearances across town (check Pesce’s Instagram for updates).

D.C.’s Southeast Asian scene just got a boost with the opening of Som Tom, a super-spicy Thai stall in Union Market from Lucky Buns chef Alex McCoy.