By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2004
Taipei Tokyo in Rockville is also the third in its family, and it's hard to resist calling this one Thai-pei Tokyo. The business began a decade ago as a real Chinese noodle house and (somewhat adulterated) sushi bar in White Flint and expanded a few years later to the Twinbrook area of Rockville Pike. Now, amid the craze for pan-Asian and particularly Thai dishes, the new branch, in the restaurant-mall-like Fallsgrove Village Center, is offering what the menu describes as dishes from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam (Korea, too, although it's not listed). The good news is that the Japanese food at this branch, particularly the sushi and tempura, is better than at most non-Japanese establishments, thanks in good measure to the quality of the rice; the bad news is a lot of the other fare is interchangeable.
The days of the hand-pulled noodles that made the original Taipei Tokyo so memorable are long gone, and the variously accented noodle dishes and soups are only so-so: One night's Thai lemongrass soup and Japanese udon were distinguished only by the latter's shrimp being tempura-fried rather than plain; and none of the seasoning seems particularly assured. The veggies in a chow mein were admirably crisp-done, but the cornstarch thickener had more flavor than the sauce. Fried calamari is grease-free but dull, the pajeon (Korean-style scallion pancake) soporific. The spicy eggplant and pork hot pot was very nearly good, but the brown sauce was a veritable blanket. And lettuce wraps, though a generous portion of finely diced and almost spicy chicken, were presented with a half-dozen huge iceberg lettuce leaves that couldn't bend if they'd been rolled over -- and certainly added no flavor.
But this is also a much more suburban family clientele, and authenticity may be less important than accessibility. Taipei Tokyo's food is hearty and moderately priced. There is something for almost everyone -- noodles, whatever the size, are a kids' delight -- and if you play to the kitchen's less homogenized side (codfish steamed with ginger and scallions) and keep asking for condiments and dipping sauces, you may be able to put together bolder flavors for the table.