The menu is not the first thing you'll look at in this Thai restaurant in Silver Spring, but rather the diorama just inside the door. About four feet high, it is a replica of a Thai village, complete with farmers and animals and a trickling stream that ends in a lake full of . . . rubber duckies.
Co-owner Suton Thumprasert made the diorama with a friend; he added the ducks for children to play with. (Many, he says, now call it the "duck restaurant.") The tabletops in the two-room space are painted with Thai scenes to remind him of home. It's just such homey touches that have kept Thai Derm in business for 25 years. About 70 percent of the customers are regulars, Thumprasert says.
His wife, Sirikunya, is the co-owner and runs the kitchen, which turns out generous portions of classic dishes such as lemon grass soup and spicy curries at lunch and dinner. The Tom Yam Koong ($3.50) is both fragrant and pungent, thanks to a kick of fish sauce and chili peppers. Green Curry ($9.50), full of tender, thinly sliced chicken, peppers and lots of basil, leaves a pleasant tingle on the lips. Spicy Seafood ($10.50) is a kind of piquant bouillabaisse. Its coconut broth is packed with scallops and mussels (and, unfortunately, imitation crab, too). We also liked the Pad Ped ($10.25), its delicate shrimp sauteed simply with basil and chili.
Noodles are not the draw at Thai Derm. The thick rice noodles in the Pad Zie Eiew Jae can be gummy and the sauce tasteless. The pad Thai is standard takeout variety, slightly dry and lacking the balance of sweet, sour, hot and salty that makes the dish a street-food classic.
Still, finding something to like is easy enough. There are lunch specials that vary each day of the week but remain a bargain $5.75, including rice and a spring roll. The couple's niece, Pong, is often there to offer advice or send out a sample of Thai iced tea, made with condensed milk, while you wait.
Another one of those touches that keep people coming back.
-- Jane Black (Good to Go; Dec. 31, 2008)