855-C Rockville Pike, Rockville

340-8897 Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Most dinner entrees $6-$9. Cards: American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

What with a half-dozen or so Thai restaurants now operating in the Wheaton-Bethesda area, Thai food no longer seems exotic in the Maryland suburbs. But the new Thai Taste adds a dimension of elegance not found in the others.

This is a showplace of a restaurant, with Thai artifacts in spotlighted display cases, black lacquer furniture, thick carpets, the works. Yet with all this upscale feel, the servers are as personable and outgoing as we've come to expect in Thai restaurants. The combination of opulence and warmth is delightful.

Despite the spiffiness of the decor, prices are quite modest, although a bit higher than most of the other Thai places. The food has its ups and downs: Some dishes (particularly among the appetizers) are flawless, while a few of the others (which we found mainly among the entrees) don't quite come up to the competition.

The fried appetizers are exceptionally good. The best of the best is goong nang fah, big prawns with strips of ham and mushroom inside a crisp rice-flour wrapper, beautifully fried. Also excellent are tod mun, hamburger-size fried patties of minced shrimp with bits of chili pepper. Deep fried stuffed chicken, so often gristly, is done perfectly here, a lovely mixture of chicken, vegetables and crabmeat. And the spring rolls, though somewhat lacking in flavor, are commendably crisp and well endowed with ground pork.

Larb kai, an appetizer of rough-ground chicken, crisp onion, lemon juice and chili pepper, is outstanding, a lovely combination of flavors and textures. Another winner is beef salad, with juicy, flavorful meat marinated in lemon juice and spices, then grilled and served with bits of onion, garlic and chili pepper.

Sate, the traditional skewered pork appetizer, is nicely marinated and well flavored, but a tad dry.

The soups are a bit disappointing. The chicken soup with coconut milk is pleasant enough, but it lacks the complexity of flavor we've become accustomed to in other Thai restaurants. The shrimp and lemon grass soup seems insufficiently tart, so that the only discernible flavor is the pepper. And the minced pork and noodle soup is pleasant but without much character.

Among the entrees, the duck with black bean sauce is a gem, very succulent, boneless, with still-crunchy onion in a light sauce with anise and sugar. Chicken with ginger is another beauty, mildly hot, with tender pieces of chicken and strips of onion and ginger. Beef with Thai basil, generally a very hot dish, is only mildly so here, and without as much basil flavor as we've had elsewhere. The noodle dishes are fine. Pud Thai is particularly appealing, with a nice flavor-texture contrast among the noodles, sprouts, scallions and bits of egg.

Not so successful are the shrimp hot pot, a relatively dull dish of ordinary shrimp with garlic, onion and whole peppercorns; the curry with coconut milk, which, like the coconut milk soup, lacks depth; and the sweet and sour vegetables, in a thick, sweet, orange-colored sauce that doesn't do the vegetables (or the restaurant) justice.