On a warm fall evening, guests on the patio of Sense of Thai St. restaurant at One Loudoun might look up at that big October moon and imagine — just for a moment — that they are enjoying their meal along the bustling Charoen Krung Road in Bangkok.
Every one of our chefs is from Thailand
When Sense of Thai St. rolls up its wall of industrial exterior garage doors, borders disappear between the exciting energy of the streets of One Loudoun and the interior of this warm and inviting destination. Laughter, chatter, and music spill out to the sidewalks, mingling beneath the stars with the conversations of pedestrians and the hum of traffic. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday night, you might even get pulled in to join a dance party.
It’s the closest thing Loudoun County has to a city dining experience, giving a nod to the busy streets of Thailand, where locals gather in great crowds every evening to sell, cook, buy, and eat products and dishes that are sourced locally and cooked quickly.
General Manager and Beverage Director/Chief Bartender Jeremy Ross waves an arm toward the breezy entrance and smiles: “No matter what’s on a menu, a venue needs to bring the patrons in to fill the tables. The setting, the location, and the feel are just as important as the food, and we do a great job of making customers enjoy the whole experience.”
“A lot of customers ask us about our sign,” said Ross. “Did you notice that the ‘S’ in ‘Sense’ is actually a numeral 5? It’s because we are committed to satisfying all five senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.” He points to his menu, where on the last page is printed a poem he found long ago in one of his many tattered well-used bar manuals, which he keeps proudly displayed on a customized shelf at the bar for easy and quick reference:
Why We Clink Glasses (A Toast for Toasters)
When friends with other friends contrive
To make their glasses clink,
Then not one sense of all the five
Is absent from a drink.
For touch and taste and smell and sight
Evolve in pleasant round,
And when the flowing cups unite
We thrill to sense of sound.
Folly to look on wine? Oh, fie
On what teetotalers think …
There’re always five good reasons why
Good fellows like to drink.
Struck by the sentiment of the poem, Ross says he has searched for the author’s name and history without success, but it fits the philosophy behind the restaurant very well.
It’s easy to see why tables fill quickly at Sense of Thai St. The restaurant provides several seating options, which flow from romantic (outdoor patio beneath twinkling strung lights), energetic (alongside the expansive and gorgeous front entrance bar or near the bustling cooking station), or intimate (quiet padded booths set back from the rest of the activity).
Every detail invites diners to become part of the community. Strolling in from the sidewalk, visitors are greeted by a hostess stand that is an actual retired Thai food cart. One can’t miss the floor-to-ceiling paneled wall of rich wood, designed to replicate temple doors in Thailand. Painted cinnabar chairs warm the room, which is illuminated by rows of chandeliers fashioned from wooden fishing crates. Repurposed brass fishing lanterns dangle above the booths
It’s never a bad idea to begin your visit at the way-cool and locally infamous bar, which is lined with comfortable industrial stools and spans the entire front width of the restaurant. It’s behind this bar that Ross and his staff perform nothing short of magic, producing what is affectionately termed “dealer’s choice” cocktails, where customers are encouraged to describe their likes and dislikes, and the cocktails are personally crafted based on those descriptions.
The shelves and counters are lined with a kaleidoscope assortment of colored bottles and glasses of every shape and size. Ross knows exactly which liquid to pour, which herb to pinch, and which spice to add to create a drink that is unique, delicious, and perfect for the recipient, capping it off with glistening artisan ice and a twirl of garnish.
Ross trains all bar staff, so use of ingredients and techniques produce consistent results within the establishment, and all are trained to suggest and pair cocktails with the diner’s meal choice as well.
Ross is not your average bartender. Besides his duties as general manager, Ross has an impressive history and reputation as one of the most highly regarded and highest ranked bartenders in the entire D.C. region. After graduating at the top of his class in Navy “A” school, he served as an IT specialist in D.C. at the Naval Criminal and Investigative Service. In the transition between the Navy and the private sector, Ross took jobs at local restaurants and soon found that his real passion was in the hospitality industry.
The more Ross learned, the more he realized he was good at creating products to make customers happy. He quickly worked his way up to some of D.C.’s most prominent establishments. It was that sterling reputation that caught the eye of Sense of Thai’s co-owners, Sing Chokesatean and Pat Pattanamekar, who recruited him to help them open their exciting new establishment in One Loudoun.
Not only did Ross leave D.C. to work in Loudoun County – he decided to move to Loudoun County and lives in One Loudoun. Regrets about leaving the big city bar scene? “None,” he says definitively. “I love it here. I love Loudoun County.” One way he shares this love of place is by incorporating products that are grown, sourced, and produced in Loudoun into as many of his creations as possible.
On days off, Ross visits local distilleries, wineries, and breweries, where he has developed relationships with owners and staff all while honing his knowledge and skills. Those products are all available at Sense of Thai, where customers often request specific local brews or spirits by name.
Another facet of running an establishment in Northern Virginia is the diversity of patrons. “The first week we opened, I realized we didn’t have enough high chairs,” he laughed, explaining that in D.C. family evening dining is more limited. Ross loves the mix on any given day – everyone from seniors from the local retirement community, business professionals, moms’ lunch, families with small kids, singles, young dates. They all come together at Sense of Thai, and it works.
The menu at Sense of Thai is a mix of authentic Thai dishes, specialty “street food” favorites, and a few fun whimsical dishes that marry Thai and other cuisines, such as Mexican and Italian. Co-owners Pat and Sing travel to Thailand regularly, bringing back bulk supplies of their special paste so critical to some of the signature dishes. Hand-selected chefs travel back with them, too, each bringing with them their own unique and authentic recipes and styles. “Every one of our chefs is from Thailand,” says Ross.
When asked to pick a personal favorite off the menu, Ross pointed to Chiang Mai Noodle, with chicken egg noodle, Thai curry, pickled mustard green, red onion chili oil, crispy noodle, and dry shallot, saying he likes the mix of textures and flavors.
Where does one start with this menu? Space allows for only a few highlights. Appetizers include delicious Healthy Rolls (minced chicken, lettuce, rice noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, basil, cucumber, and rice paper with a spicy peanut dipping sauce) and Duck Roll (batter fried duck breast, roti, cucumber bell, pepper, scallion, finger peppers, plum sauce).
Soup and salad selections are amazing, including Tom Yum Gai (lemongrass, chicken, cherry, tomato, mushroom, cilantro, lime leaf, chili, lime), Nam Tok (marinated flank steak, toasted rice powder, onion, cilantro, chili, scallion, tamarind spicy sauce, rice), and Som Tum (green papaya, carrot, green bean, cherry tomato, peanut spicy lime sauce).
The menu offers many fried rice, curry, and noodle variations, most derived from the secrets of specific Thai food cart owners.
Just a few of Sense of Thai St.’s Signature dishes: Street Fried Rice (Thai sweet pork sausage, spicy tamarind and pork paste, green bean, red bell pepper, carrot basil, finger peppers, onion, and salty egg), Roasted Pumpkin Curry (crispy seitan wheat tofu, pumpkin, bell pepper, eggplant, coconut milk, green curry, rice noodles), and Grilled King Fish Custard (king mackerel, curry paste, coconut milk, cabbage, basil, banana leaf, kaffir lime leaf).
Every Monday offers $5 Pad Thai Gai and half-priced bottles of wine from 5 p.m. to closing, dine-in only.
After dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, Loudoun County shows up to dance. From 10 p.m. until closing at 2 a.m., tables make way for DJ Snow, and the entire front dining area, patio, and bar become a favorite gathering spot for friends or those seeking friends. Ross likes to present period themes, such as “Tiki” nights. Soon the bar area will have a spooky Halloween theme, with a Halloween event in the works.
There’s always plenty to do at One Loudoun, from the summer concerts and movies, to the annual tree lighting in winter. A huge bonus for Sense of Thai: It shares a dynamic street corner with the highly anticipated Barnes & Noble bookstore, set to open soon. Jeremy Ross can’t wait. “I’ll be right in there with everyone else, looking to add to my growing book collection,” he grins.
Sense of Thai St.
20413 Exchange St.
Ashburn, VA 20147
(703) 858 – 1980
Sunday – Thursday, 11.30 a.m.– midnight
Friday– Saturday, 11.30 a.m.– 2 a.m., with DJ after 10 p.m.