Now that we are old hands at Thai, Vietnamese and Ethiopian food, if we want something really exotic we have to travel to Manila -- or the restaurant of that name. The menu is 80-plus dishes long, and astonishingly varied, from venison marinated in soy sauce to goat stew with olives (though the kitchen does not necessarily have everything on the menu at one time).
Be prepared for startling combinations and strong tastes that may take some getting used to: pancit palabok is thin rice noodles tossed with raw oysters, pork, bean curd, egg slices and slivers of strong, chewy smoked fish, topped with a sauce of ground dried shrimp (even stronger) and a clear fish sauce (strongest of all) as a condiment. Similarly, deep-fried pig knuckles with pickled papaya may not be commonly appreciated.
There are some safe and delicious dishes to be found, however. Above all, the appetizer of fried squid is sensationally good -- very crisp and light, to be eaten with raw onion and a vinegar dip. More exotically seasoned is pork ribs with chicken and sticky rice steamed, wrapped in banana leaves, and it is a savory, appealing combination of tastes. Less interesting have been bite-size spring rolls filled with a pasty damp pork and seafood mixture, and clam and ginger soup with watery broth and chewy clams.
The dining rooms have considerable charm, the staff is eager if not necessarily acclimated to local language and habits, and prices are low enough to warrant some experimenting among the seafoods and dumplings and fish -- stuffed with onions and raisins or onions and tomatoes or steamed with coconut milk.
Manila remains somewhat awkward but definitely interesting if you are willing to take risks. 3280 M St. NW. 965-7877. L $3.95-$13.50, D $8.50-$14.95. L, D daily. Full bar.