3287 1/2 M St. NW 965-7988 Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Appetizers $1.95 to $6.25, entrees $4.95 to $9.25. Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
Don't be put off by the fact it's underground, and a bit removed from the heart of the neighborhood. Thai Taste of Georgetown is a little jewel of a restaurant, an exotically appointed space swathed in maroon, with elaborately designed dark wood booths and prettily set tables.
Although it is windowless, there is an intriguing view of mountainous terrain in the form of a mural along one side of the dining room. "Thailand?" I asked. "Afghanistan," offered a waiter, acknowledging that the decor is that of a previous occupant.
Although the dining room may transcend cultures, there's no mistaking the menu for anything other than Thai -- the multitude of dishes laced with fiery chilies, flecked with lemon grass and seasoned with curry and coconut milk sees to that.
Thai Taste of Georgetown, the offspring of Thai Taste on Connecticut Avenue, supposedly offers the same menu as the original, although I never encountered the intriguing daily specials for which the latter is known. And in terms of decor, the Georgetown branch is much more traditional a setting than that of its counterpart, which is bathed in pink and the glow of neon. The restaurants share unfortunate design details: The tables at the original are too narrow, while the seating in Georgetown seems to have been constructed with beauty rather than comfort in mind.
Both restaurants also make choosing from so long and varied a list of appetizers difficult; more than two dozen snacks, soups and salads are available, most of which are priced just slightly lower than main dishes. (For the uninitiated, the menu includes a two-page spread of culinary highlights.) One of my favorite starters is the deep-fried stuffed chicken wings, plump morsels of chicken stuffed with a blend of noodles, crab, mushrooms and seasonings in a golden batter crust so delicate and crisp that it shatters as you bite into it. For those who enjoy the fire of Thai seasoning, there are larb kai, a warm salad of minced chicken stoked with onion and green chilies on a bed of lettuce, and fried salted beef with vinegary carrots and cabbage -- tame by itself but of breathtaking intensity when dipped in its incendiary red sauce. More sensitive palates might opt for the satisfying pork satay -- slivers of grilled, curry-dusted meat threaded on skewers -- or a simple Thai salad of cool cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots, both served with the traditional peanut sauce.
And then there are Thai Taste's delectable soups, which range from a sublime and gentle bowl of ground pork and glassy noodles to a generous seafood stew, a heady blend of mussels, shrimp and squid set in a broth bolstered with lemon grass, a pleasantly assertive flavor that tends to linger in the throat.
Main dishes are even more extensive, but less compelling as a whole. There are four curry selections, and an assortment of meat and poultry dishes prepared with the requisite Thai seasonings (chilies, lemon grass, onion and basil for starters). That range includes a winning meal of beef in curry-accented coconut milk and an attractive and filling noodle dish consisting of shrimp, squid, bits of egg and scallion. I was less enthusiastic about the fatty, chewy duckling with vegetables and the colorful but lackluster sweet and sour pork, which wasn't much different from what you could expect from a Chinese carryout.
In general, seafood and fish dishes are more even. Once you get past all the tiny bones, the crispy whole fish is a delight -- moist, flaky fish blanketed with a tantalizingly suave sweet and sour sauce. Even better is the steamed whole fish, perfumed with slices of ginger and chopped scallions. And then there is squid with chilies and basil, at once fragrant and fiery.
The menu lists a full page of potent, brightly colored beverages in addition to a separate wine list. But probably the most suitable drink is beer.
Whether to visit Thai Taste on Connecticut Avenue or on M Street depends less on your wallet than on your mood, as they are similarly priced. For its sense of fun, I'd opt for the original. But for those occasions when something a bit more exotic is desired, Thai Taste of Georgetown does an admirable job of fitting the bill.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.