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Tara Thai
By Phyllis C. Richman
Washington Post Restaurant Critic
From The Washington Post Dining Guide, November 1996

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| 4828 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, Md.
(301) 657-0488

Hours of Operation and Prices
Lunch: M-F 11:30-3, Sat noon-3:30; Entrees: $5-$8
Dinner: Sun-Th 5-10, F-Sat 5-11; Entrees: $7-$19

Other Information
• All major credit cards
• Reservations recommended
• Dress: casual
• Street parking
• Nearest Metro: Bethesda
• Handicapped Accessible
• Tara Thai has a second branch at 226 Maple Ave., Vienna, Va., (703) 255-2467.

Fire and ice. Tara Thai weaves the theme subtly. Its walls are murals of icy ocean depths and sea creatures, dark marine blue with the suggestion of sunlight filtering through. Glass dividers show underwater scenes etched in their surfaces like ice sculptures. Sprays of orchids and zebra-striped banquettes suggest the tropics and warmth, but they are lit by the cold glow of electric-blue neon. This is a breezy backdrop for chili-hot Thai cooking.

Some dishes are outstanding, and since even ordinary Thai cooking is pretty good, you can't go too wrong. Generally, at Thai restaurants I'd be delighted to make a meal of appetizers, and entrees usually are hardly more filling than first courses. Not here. Entrees are often standouts, and typical portions are hefty. To start, look for any appetizer with lemon grass or lime. Mussels with lemon grass and chili sauce are small yet plump, fragrant and tangy. Lime also comes into play with larb gai, the tart, hot, ground-chicken dish, and with green-papaya salad with grilled shrimp, or yum talay, a platter of warm shellfish and salad greens.

In choosing an entree, the underwater murals provide a hint: Order a whole fish. And while familiar Thai entrees are available, Tara Thai also breaks away from the usual, offering grilled tiger shrimp - as large as prawns -under a fragrant blanket of ground chicken and crab. There's home-style braised beef with a puree of green onions and chili, and a soup called tom klong, identified as "a long lost recipe" of monkfish, shiitakes, lemon grass, chilies and tamarind. Never have I seen a more interesting selection of Thai desserts: coconut ice cream with jackfruit and berry sauce, ice creams of Thai coffee or pandan leaves with lotus seeds, tropical sorbets, and two kinds of sticky rice - one with mango, another prepared as a pudding with taro root.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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