Thai Roma Restaurant
313 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Prices: Lunch appetizers $2.95 to $5.25, entrees $5.50 to $8.50. Dinner appetizers $3.50 to $6.95, entrees $6.25 to $12.50.
Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
Separate nonsmoking dining area.
Thai and Italian cooking are such temperamental opposites that to find the combination in one restaurant would seem unlikely.
But Thai Roma, a charming restaurant on Capitol Hill that took over the defunct Toscanini Ristorante last summer, apparently decided to honor the memory of its predecessor by keeping a handful of Italian dishes on its otherwise Thai menu.
Not that this is your ordinary red-sauce-or-white-sauce kind of place. How about linguine with peanut sauce, bean sprouts and roast pork? Or pizza with curried chicken or barbecued duck? Or grilled Italian sausage salad with cucumbers, onions and tomatoes in a dressing of lime juice and chili peppers?
Bear in mind that these are the Italian dishes. The Thai specialties are less peculiar -- and much better.
Thai Roma's Yum Pla Muek -- tender, just-cooked squid with lemon grass -- explodes with red pepper, chopped ginger, lime juice and scallions. We would also return for the sweet-hot chicken curry. Stewed in a thick sauce blending curry, peanuts and savory Thai spices, this chicken special of the day was soothingly rich and creamy despite its infusion of chilis.
A third of Thai Roma's menu is marked "hot and spicy," and that's a fair warning. Though this was hardly the hottest Thai food we have ever eaten, it was plenty peppery.
But what we enjoyed most about Thai Roma was the mix of flavors, both searing and aromatic.
Appetizers, which can easily serve four, include mainstays such as satay -- grilled chunks of pork or chicken on bamboo skewers -- and chicken wings stuffed with crab meat. But there are also some nice surprises, including the Yum Pla Muek ($5.25 at dinner).
The offbeat Thai Roma Onion Rolls (two for $2.95 at lunch, $3.95 at dinner) were Oriental-style: The egg roll skins enclosing thick slices of white onion were deep-fried long enough to mellow out the sharp onion flavor and turn the skins nice and crunchy.
Tod Mun Goong, an appetizer described as curry shrimp cake ($5.25 at lunch, $5.75 at dinner), turned out to be airy shrimp balls deep-fried and served with a bit of cucumber salad with peanut sauce.
Of six soups served at dinner, we tried Tom Yum Talay ($3.75 a bowl), which combined shrimp, scallops and squid in a clear broth with scallions, lemon grass, mushroom and red pepper.
Among dinner entrees we recommend the Haw Mok Talay ($9.95), a generous mix of shrimp, scallops and squid in a luscious sauce of coconut milk, basil leaves, red pepper and aromatic spices. Served casserole-style, the combination had been cooked long enough to thicken the sauce and form a crust on the bottom, yet the seafood was not overcooked.
Beef Nua Num Tok ($6.25 at lunch, $7.95 at dinner) was a salad of sliced, medium-cooked flank steak served on a bed of lettuce in a marinade of lime juice and chili sauce. The beef was tender but we would have liked it rarer.
Ped Krob ($10.95 at dinner) was a delectable mix of roast duck slices, tiny corncobs, cashews and mushrooms in a brown sauce.
As for the pizza: Unless soy sauce is your idea of a creative addition to the classic variety, don't bother. That said, the pizza was large and came on a dramatic raised platter -- as one might serve a large birthday cake. It can be ordered with bean sprouts, barbecued duck and other improbable toppings and costs $5.95 to $8.50 at lunch and $6.95 to $8.50 at dinner.
The dessert selection is limited. We tried Thai coconut and fruit ice cream, a tiny cup with bits of lichi nut. An order of "assorted exotic Thai fruits" turned out to be a bowl of canned lichi nuts in iced syrup.
Also available is Thai coffee, which is served over ice with condensed milk. Not recommended is the "Young coconut juice" ($2.50 at dinner) with its slivers of limp coconut and canned flavor.
The premises are comfortable, though the tables are small -- particularly those for four. The main dining room combines Thai and Italian artifacts with whimsical touches of stained glass and fake marble.