First Bite

A feast for the eyes, not so much for the plate

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teak Wood is a treat for the eyes. At the entrance of the freshly minted Thai restaurant in Logan Circle, near-life-size wooden statues stand guard. Farther into the dining room, handsome carved window frames, lighted from within, punctuate the room's curry-yellow walls. The high ceiling is periwinkle, suggesting an evening sky; beneath the resin gloss on the tables is teak, reinforcing the restaurant's moniker. Teak Wood could almost be mistaken for a design store.

Except that there's a sushi bar in the back. Kanitha Carraghan, who refers to herself as Teak Wood's managing director and the niece of co-owner Chuchart Kampirapang, says the display of raw fish and vinegared rice is one way to distinguish this venue from the nearby Regent Thai Cuisine in Dupont Circle, which Kampirapang also co-owns.

The menu fixture would also seem to appeal to the many gym enthusiasts in Logan Circle: "Sushi is healthy and very famous right now," Carraghan says.

A taste of the signature Teak Wood roll raises expectations. Each piece is rich with baked eel in the center, smooth with scallops on top and glistening with black flying fish roe.

Much of the Thai menu, on the other hand, is a letdown. Every bite of shrimp toast floods the mouth with grease. "Hot and sour" shrimp soup is tepid and boldly tart, without the nuances a Thai food fan anticipates in a bowl of tom yum goong. Grilled whole trout dressed up with herbs is leached of moisture, and the limp coat on the fried squid drops off in raw strips of batter.

Two dishes helped salvage my visits: larb gai, kicky with lime, and sauteed eggplant in a zippy black bean sauce. Frankly, the most entertaining part of the experience is the jingle-jangle of the servers' aprons, which have tiny bells sewn into them. "They're supposed to make you relax," explains Carraghan.

"You like the food?" a server asks. We let the barely touched plates of food with their tired vegetable garnishes speak for us.

1323 14th St. NW. 202-290-1856 Entrees, $12.95-$21.95.

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