Thai With a Twist
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, October 24, 2004
THE LOUD SIZZLE preceding the arrival of my beef entree, neua krata, seems out of place in the context of the serene Regent Thai Cuisine, where the only other sounds on a slow weeknight have been gentle background music and the tinkle-tinkle of a nearby fountain. The dish sputters like beef fajitas but smells sweetly of Asian spices. A jumble of thin slices of marinated beef, snow peas and other vegetables strewn with sesame seeds, it is one of several signature dishes that set this Thai newcomer apart from the crowd. It's tasty, if a bit more expensive than what you tend to find at your typical issuer of papaya salad and drunken noodles.
The Regent takes the place of 88 -- and too many other restaurants that have tried to make a go of it on a tricky part of 18th Street NW that seems to belong neither to Adams Morgan nor to Dupont Circle. Launched in July by Chuchart Kampirapang, it gets a boost from Saowaluk Wiyagul in the kitchen and an eye for detail in the dining room. This is apparent early on, with an appetizer of tom yum goong. The shrimp and mushroom soup comes framed in a handsome square-sided bowl, and its assertive flavors -- cilantro, lemon grass, red chilies -- slap my tongue around in a bid for attention. Similarly fetching are spring rolls filled with carrots, cabbage and taro root, cut on the bias and presented as fragile spears with pineapple dipping sauce.
There are two high-ceilinged rooms, and both give you a sense of being far away from Washington. A small forest of handsome wood carvings and moss green walls wrap visitors in style and comfort, and the blocky teak chairs and tables underscore the Thai theme. The restaurant bears a resemblance to the nearby Rice in Logan Circle, from the soothing color palette right down to the "Green Corner" emphasizing vegetarian dishes on its bill of fare.
Of the signature dishes, the standout is grilled whole trout. The fish is moist, meaty and -- thanks to slices of lemon and lime as well as lemon grass tucked inside -- also fragrant and flavorful. Presented on banana leaf, it's enhanced by a sharp dipping sauce fueled by garlic, lime juice and chilies.
Pork-and-seafood dumplings are too compact, and duck is limp and cloying with its honey sauce and dry watercress. Now and then, the kitchen also oversweetens things. But the winners outnumber the lesser choices. Ordering basil fried rice, for instance, brings a glistening mound of fragrant grains stir-fried with the namesake herb, strips of red pepper, a blazing chili sauce and a choice of meat or seafood. Drunken noodles here are thick, slippery and pleasantly smoky ribbons, punched up with a similar sauce and best ordered with tender scored squid. And everything brims with style: Instead of on a plastic check tray, your bill is delivered in a sleek wooden box.