Todd Kliman’s weekly Washingtonian chat strikes again: two mentions of Ren’s Ramen this week, once at the top among his summer highlights, once more at the bottom in response to a question. As he says, he is “still thinking about the marvelous bowl of miso ramen” he had at Ren’s weeks ago. Me too! Also if I focus I can still smell the wonderful miso-soy-umami aroma of the place. Ren’s next-door-neighbor Ruan Thai also makes the summer highlights list, specifically for the Angel wings, which I haven’t tried yet. Guess I’ll add that to my list.
So yesterday ended Ren 2 Ruan 1. But Ruan tied it up this morning when Tom Sietsema, in his WaPo chat, responded to a “best Thai in DC?” question by citing his “love” for Ruan, and also for Silver Spring’s new Kao Thai, which will get reviewed in this Sunday’s Post Magazine.
I would love to be able to say the WSJ, NYT, NPR, or some other national acronym broke the tie, but I would be making it up. Ren and Ruan are even for now, and will have to go to delicious penalty kicks. It is a small strip mall, and yet there are those who love it…
Happy Independence Day, and what better way to celebrate our melting pot than eat great Thai food? Not that we need an excuse. I am on a mission to try a new dish from time to time at Nava (11301 Fern), and today that dish (new to me that is) was crispy mussels. They were very crisp indeed, in a savory egg batter atop a bed of sprouts, tasting of the sea but not too fishy or salty, and the mussel-eaters in our group (4 of 6) enjoyed them. We also tried a fish curry and the lemon beef salad appetizer, our first time ordering both, and I wasn’t as crazy about them but both disappeared fast enough.
As usual, we also got the twice-cooked crispy duck appetizer, which was even more crisp and delicious than usual. And a couple of noodle dishes and a curry, and the renowned duck kaprow, which is like fireworks in your mouth. I like to think Thomas Jefferson would have approved. Kaprow!
The Washingtonian’s “Best Of” issue (aka July 2011) is now on newsstands (I assume — it was in my mailbox on Friday) (not yet online) and Wheaton has once again infiltrated the magazine’s pages. Hollywood East is one of three “Best Midnight Snacks” — ’til 1 AM Friday and Saturday! That’s our only local Best Of listing. What, we don’t qualify for Best Celebrity Spotting? Stevie Wonder shops at Chuck Levin’s!* Criminy.
In the regular food section, Nava Thai is mentioned along with Germantown’s Sabai Sabai Simply Thai as “two of the area’s best Thai restaurants” amidst the positive review of Silver Spring’s new Kao Thai. So much great Thai food, so little thaime. (sorry)
Ah, Kenny Bania. Gold, Jerry. Gold!
* This is true about Stevie and Chuck, but I am just kidding about Wheaton being good for celebrity spotting. Just in case it wasn’t glaringly obvious…
How’s that for headline excitement?
- Washingtonian’s review of Peruvian chicken — Wheaton’s El Pollo Kiki Riki (2533 Ennalls) was the winner — is finally online.
- Charm Thai is coming soon to Silver Spring, but the Gazette notes that “Wheaton is more well-known for its Thai cuisine with institutions like Ruan Thai and Nava Thai.” True!
- Wheaton also has the also-good Dusit Thai, which Patch recently reviewed (albeit with very little detail).
- Sietsema wrote about Shake Shack (now open in Dupont Circle) this week in the WaPo. I’m basically with him: very good burgers, meh fries, okay pricing, and worth eating but not worth waiting in long lines. Eventually the novelty will wear off (won’t it?) and the wait times will disappear.
- If you’re more McDonalds than Shack, perhaps you would enjoy some wine with your McFood?
I’m sure we eat at Nava more than at any other restaurant in Wheaton or anywhere else, it remains a consistently excellent gem and this time, with a larger group than normal, we ordered a lot of the usual: pad thai, penang curry, anything involving duck. Kaprow! I took the opportunity to order som tam, the fiery fresh papaya salad that we normally don’t get because it is too hot for many people, and extra-dangerous because it involves both (1) green beans and (2) hot green chilis that look like beans until you bite one. The som tam was a big hit.
The other item of interest was a special: a soft-shell crab listed as “Lovely Mommy” — not sure what to make of that name, and I decided some questions are best left unasked. It was in fact lovely in both presentation and taste, a huge crab fried to a deep brown crisp with lots of holy basil, peppers and that dark rich sauce that Nava must make by the gallon. It was really good, and given the sauce and ingredients, they may as well have called it crab kaprow, though Lovely Mommy has a certain ring to it I suppose. I love introducing new people to Nava (I think even my own lovely Mommy has eaten there, takeout at least).
It has been a couple of weeks since Ruan Thai (11407 Amherst) reopened and the expanded space looks great: higher ceilings, freshly green-and-yellow-pastel-painted walls, clean and bright faux-wood floors and tables. A very nice remodel. Sound really carries in the new space (they used to have wall-to-wall carpet) but some tapestries on the walls should help with that — the walls were bare as of a few days ago.
Three times as many tables in the swanky new space. Hope the kitchen can keep up! They sure did when we were there, especially duck kaprow (or as Ruan puts it, probably more authentically, “kha prao”), every bit as good as the Nava version, with succulent but crisp-outside duck in a spicy-sweet basil sauce where the heat really sneaks up on you, in a good way. Ruan still makes the best pad prik khing (meat with green beans in spicy sauce) in town, and their mango sticky rice excelled on this day as well. Coconut chicken soup and stir-fried watercress also winners.
The old divey small space was often full for weekend dinner; the new space is not at all divey* and I hope they can fill it or at least come close. The food is certainly worth it.
* The whole strip looks a lot nicer with its new yellow coat of paint and new signage for Ren’s Ramen (open tomorrow!). Doubt Brother Chinese will get a makeover anytime soon, though.
June 1, starting at 11:30 AM for lunch. Almost exactly nine months after closing their former Bethesda location. Can’t wait to try the new Ren’s (11403 Amherst). And soon we won’t have to wait!
Other notes from today’s traipse around Wheaton:
- Horrid and paltry lime selection at H Mart, four for a dollar and tiny nasty brown fruit, looked more like walnuts than limes. Hung Phat’s limes look great but aren’t that juicy (3/$1). Maybe just a brief setback…
- Next door to Ren, Ruan’s expansion is complete, the new space has been open nearly two weeks and looks fantastic, though they need to put some art on the walls. They have at least tripled the available seating. Food seems as good as ever — more on that in a couple of days. Kaprow!
- An out-of-town visitor said he thinks he has never had a pupusa — Wheaton is of course a fine place to remedy that. I first told him there must be at least 9 or 10 pupusa sources in Wheaton, and then I proceeded to count six places just on the single block of Elkin between University and Price. So many pupusas, so little time.
The three R’s are lining up in the dingy little stripmall on Amherst just north of University. The new addition, Bethesda transplant Ren’s Ramen, has its shiny black sign in place above the front door; newspaper still covers the windows but I think they are close to reopening and can’t wait to visit.
Not to be outdone, Ruan Thai also has a new addition in the works: they are expanding their space to include the store between the current Ruan and the future Ren’s. Ruan has always been such a tiny dive (with great food), it will be interesting to see how they redecorate, and if the food or service suffers at all when they have twice as many tables.
Add it up (there’s your ‘rithmatic!), that’s three R’s right there: Ruan, Ren’s, Ramen. We get two bonus baby r’s in Brother Chinese, anchoring the strip nearest to University; Brother’s food is not in the same class as its neighbors but offers big portions at low prices and clearly there is a market for that because they’ve been around quite a while.
This will be your best-bet strip mall when you have a group of Wheatonians variously demanding Japanese, Thai, and Chinese and unwilling to compromise.
Nava Thai again with friends, packed as usual on a Saturday night with a line out the door waiting for tables. Duck blah blah pork blah blah pad thai blah blah kaprow! Never gets old, excellent as usual.
We actually branched out this time, tried the bean thread and ground pork soup and really enjoyed it, clear broth belied lots of flavor and a bit of heat, quality on a par with the tom kha gai (but totally different style). Seafood curry was solid, but won’t supplant crispy duck/pork/kaprow, or even panang curry, from our usual rotation. Nava also had mango sticky rice on hand, which they don’t always: a fine end to a deliciously calorific meal.
WaPo’s Tom Sietsema and Washingtonian’s Todd Kliman both gave shout-outs to Wheaton’s Ruan Thai in their respective chats today and yesterday. “Delicious Thai cooking, and about as divey as a good restaurant gets,” says Kliman. Ruan (11407 Amherst) is all about substance not style, too true. Sietsema recomments the fried watercress, tom kha gai, and stir-fried pork belly with Chinese broccoli. No mention of kaprow but I’m sure that’s an honest oversight.