Tara Temple

June 24, 2014

It used to be part of the Tara Thai chain. But with a new owner, new renovations and Buddhist sculptures flanking the entrance, the name morphed to Tara Temple. If D.C. was the banquet hall, Arlington was the backyard. It was a town where I had the least amount of clients and the fewest number of events. So when manager Shine Chuenyam invited me to host an event at the Temple, I was more than happy to oblige.

When I approached, I was met by two mythical stone lions standing guard at an ironclad double door. As I walked in, I could see that the foyer was shaped like the entrance of a Thai temple with shiny red columns and a sweeping temple roof. 

I was greeted by stone statues of Buddhist deities praying. And also familiar faces — Wayne Manigo my favorite local stand-up comic, and Orlando Darden, my favorite trainer were already seated at the bar. 

The Temple was spacious with a large oval-shaped bar, plenty of comfy couches and semi-circular booths for those who yearn for a private conversation. The decor was sleek and modern and it definitely set the tone for the entire evening. 

As I made my way around the bar, I noticed two lovely women with bronze skin tones and golden brown hair.

Deb Santos & Roxana Johnson

“Are you two sisters?”

“Close, we’re best of friends.”

“From around here?”

A petite girl with a toothy smile donned in a yellow floral print dress pointed to her friend. “Roxy is — born and raised. I’m Deb from Chicago.”

“Great sports city. So you must love Mike Ditka and Michael Jordan?”

“Absolutely, and Roxy is a huge Redskins fan, so she loves RG3 and Joe Theismann. I’m a huge Blackhawks fan.”

“And home of the deep dish pizza — what your favorite type of food when you’re really hungry and you care who you’re eating out with?”

Deb nursed her martini with extra vermouth. “Hands down, Sheecago is the best. Love the wood-fired pizzas from Matchbox to go with the milkshakes from Ted’s Bulletin.”

Roxy took a gulp of her Singha.”The birria tacos from El Rey and the soy garlic wings and kimchi from Bonchon.”

“Sounds perfect. And I just love the 1920’s art deco setup at Ted’s and the shipping container design at El Rey.”

It was at that time that Wayne came by to steal the show.

“And for laughs, you should check out the Bier Baron Tavern and Comedy Loft.”

“Girls, this is Wayne our resident comic. He’s also my top promoter who will attest to the fact that on RUNINOut you can search for your favorite type of food, events, ambience, or even team sports, and the site will provide personalized recommendations in the local area.”

Roxy’s eyes lit up. “Really, can you search who is serving the wheat beer, Hell or High Watermelon?”

“The Cantina Marina at the Wharf,” I replied in an instant.

“Can you search for places that are pet friendly?” Deb requested.

I quickly tapped into my phone. “Wonderland Ballroom — do you own a rescue?”

“Don’t have one yet, but I really want a Dalmation — heard they are beautiful and brainy.”

“Sweet. I have a pit bull named Georgia and a sun conure called Apollo — my parrot who likes to drink Guinness at the Irish Channel.”

Next, I strolled over to greet Christine who was sipping on a Singha Mojito while waiting for her lobster sushi roll.

Shortly after, Khoi Tran showed up. An Air Force officer stationed in the Pentagon, he is also a food connoisseur and loves to blog about his experiences. 

“I love a Thai restaurant that serves good sushi,” he said. “Sushi that’s creative with a fine presentation.”

Shine Chuenyam brought out the next delicacy — the Sunomono Salad consisting of octopus, cuttlefish, cucumber, and seaweed over a bed of shredded white radish with sweet rice vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

For two hours, Shine kept putting out phenomenal appetizers like we were Thai royalty, and we were ordering $2.50 draft Kirin and Singhas like they were Poland Springs. 

Orlando quickly showed off his chopstick precision skills by extracting a red cuttlefish out of the medley.

“Mmm, juicy and rich – it’s a cross between a squid and an octopus.”

“Nah, I’m good,” said Wayne. “I prefer to get my ink from Staples.”

Christine giggled then decided to bust out a one-liner herself. “So what did Sushi A say to Sushi B?” 

“C’mon Wasabi,” Wayne replied cracking up together with Christine.

“That’s right, I forgot to tell you that’s not avocado that you’re eating,” Shine smiled as he poured another round of tequila.  

All the guys partook, sprinkling salt all over the counter and sucking lemon wedges as if they were adult pacifiers. 

“Wow that Don Julio really packs a punch,” said Orlando. “Now I’m ready to go in the ring.”

Wayne grabbed a tuna nigiri with precision and held it next to his mouth. “As for me, my lane is in the kitchen. Being a chef is hard work. But a sushi chef, all you gotta do is resist the temptation to not cook the food – how hard is that?” 

Shine served an enticing plate of dragon roll. “Alright smart aleck, no more caviar for you.” 

Wayne devoured the entire roll. “All joking aside, this sushi is out of this world. And the rice, you nailed it. It’s even better than my favorite spot on H Street, Sticky Rice.”

Since Khoi arrived a bit late, Christine was happy to feed him. Khoi was reluctant at first since as a military officer, he was used to fending for himself, but Christine wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I’m a cook and feeding my friends is an act of love.”

“C’mon now, this isn’t omakase. Khoi can get his own damn unagi,” The Mezcal was making Wayne funnier by the minute. 

I waited till Khoi finished chewing his nigiri. “So what do you do on your free time? Are you visiting a lot of different restaurants?” 

“I wish I had time to do more. A lot of life doesn’t happen because I’m attending graduate school in International Relations — a lot of writing, poring over textbook chapters, and reflecting on feedback from professors and peers.”

Christine pulled the lobster tail out of the shell. “Yes, education is important, but so is making new friends.”

I turned to her and said, “You need to come to our events more often. No one will ever complain that they didn’t get enough to eat.”

“And you two bozos,” as I looked over at Wayne and Orlando. “You guys can take it easy on the booze and sushi. Sometimes, they just don’t go together.”

Orlando took another bite of his sashimi. “Talk about hypocrisy — I haven’t seen you stop drinking except when you were chatting up with the chics. When are we going running again?”

“Yes, I really need to seriously cut back in my drinking. Both my physical and mental health has taken a back seat.”