Standing out from the typical burger and crab cake fare of the Georgetown Waterfront, Mama Rouge offers an unexpected fusion of South Asian and French flavors, pairing banh mi with croissants and curry with a baguette.
Mama Rouge, which opened Oct. 14, occupies the spot that for 12 years was Thai restaurant Bangkok Joe’s. Although both the menu and the look of the space are completely new, it’s still owned and operated by the duo behind Bangkok Joe’s, chef Aulie Bunyarataphan and Mel Oursinsiri. They transformed the space to make way for Mama Rouge about five months ago.
With their first steps inside, customers enter a world of luxury and exotic color amid Georgetown’s busiest restaurant area. From the elaborate straw-like chandelier to the bright red-and-blue wallpaper, the “modern Middle Eastern chic” design draws you in.
Not surprisingly, the menu is equally intriguing. One glance and I had a string of questions pop into my mind: Is this a Thai restaurant? Why is everything in French? Why is a bahn mi sandwich being served on a croissant? Why is a curry dish offered with a baguette?
The staff were barely keeping up with the large dinner crowd, but my waitress still made time to explain the menu to me.
Bunyarataphan’s French and Asian heritage is the inspiration for the dishes. She named the restaurant after her grandmother, “Mama Rouge,” and the flavors represent how chefs can cross traditional ethnic and culinary boundaries.
I ended up choosing banh mi, a Vietnamese-style sandwich, because it seemed like the most unpredictable thing on the menu. Keeping with the French-Asian fusion theme, the sandwich is offered on either a French baguette or croissant.
The buttery outer crust of the croissant steamed as Thai coconut shrimp salad poured out of the sides. For $9, I received a full dish of Thai greens and a sandwich that popped off the plate with color. Not only did everything taste good, but I didn’t feel over-stuffed after eating the whole meal.
The salad was refreshing, with mint, cucumbers, carrots, spinach and onion creating a crunchy topping that was vibrant with color and flavor. The coconut shrimp and salad were covered with a sweet soy glaze, framed in the soft folds of the croissant. As I ate the sandwich, each bite fell apart in my mouth, combining the sour of the shrimp and the sweet of the salad to create a completely unexpectedly balanced taste.
It proved hard to eat, with bits of shrimp dropping onto the plate with every bite. Toward the end of my meal, I deserted my attempt to eat the sandwich whole and decided to cut it up in efforts to appear civilized.
Maybe the next time I find myself craving the fusion of flavors at Mama Rouge, I’ll go with something a little more user-friendly, like a bowl of pho or some pad thai.