THAI, AND THAI AGAIN: The chunky teak chairs on the patio at 1910 18th St. NW hint at what the new business might be selling, and a whiff of the air inside -- fragrant with curry and sweet herbs -- confirms my hunch: Another Thai restaurant has landed in Washington. This one is called The Regent (202-232-1781) and this one, in a space vacated by 88 in Dupont Circle, is uncommonly serene, thanks to a collection of rich wood carvings and walls painted a soothing shade of sage. Owner Chuchart "Bobby" Kampirapang worked as a waiter and cook at the late Chef's Secret in College Park prior to opening this 100-seat restaurant late last month; he hired Saowaluk Wiyagul, a veteran of the kitchens at Busara in Washington and Thai Taste in Manassas to create the menu for the Regent. If the prices are a little higher than what you typically find at the competition, the cooking is several notches more polished. The proof is in the panang (try chicken), sweet with coconut milk and bright with kaffir lime leaves, as well as whole grilled trout stuffed with lime slices and lemongrass. Billed as a house specialty, that fish comes with a dipping sauce of julienned mango and red chilis that brings a sweat on the brow -- and keeps you coming back for more.
Lunch entrees $8.95-$19.95; dinner entrees $10.95-$19.95.
LOUNGE ACTS: It sounds like too much to expect of a white-hot Washington watering hole: a setting in which you can actually hear yourself and you can leave without smelling as if you just climbed out of a chimney. The fantasy gives way to reality at Halo (1435 P St. NW; 202-797-9730) in Logan Circle, where the tunes are played at a volume that encourages conversation and lighting up is strictly forbidden. The early verdict? "The smokers are thankful, and my staff is grateful," reports co-owner John Guggenmos, who keeps a stock of candy cigarettes behind the orange-glowing bar for patrons who feel deprived. Couches and ottomans give intimacy to the second-floor space, which is set off with chic metal curtains that pull double duty as art and room divider. Notice how good everyone looks? The lounge's soft lighting changes color throughout the evening (cool blues rule now, but amber and other warm hues will dominate come fall). For snacking, there are dishes of banana chips and Asian trail mix; cocktails run to blueberry mojitos and mango smoothies -- just add rum or vodka to the latter and you've got yourself a party.