Ruan Thai (11407 Amherst) has settled nicely into its expanded and renovated digs — looks great, although seems a bit cavernous when uncrowded – and continues to churn out good food, but the beef mussamun curry in particular has slipped a bit. It was never as authentic or amazing as the only-sometimes-available Nava version, but it used to have rich if overly sweet flavor. Lately it hasn’t gotten the old taste buds jumping much at all. Ruan’s pad prik khing (spicy green beans with choice of meat) remains excellent, the local standard. Recently we also branched out and tried a dish we hadn’t before (what!?), chicken with cashews and spring onions: good savory flavor, although it was more broth than sauce, surprisingly watery. Not bad but probably wouldn’t order it again. Need to eat in rather than take out like we usually do so we can try the lauded yum watercress, which I suspect would not travel well.
I think Ruan has also taken the opportunity to raise its prices — bigger, nicer space, new full color menus, why not? Most main dishes used to be in the $8-$10 range and now entrees are a couple bucks more across the board. Still not a bad value, but not as fabulous as before; appetizers are the best value at Ruan these days.
Beyond Russo’s and H Mart:
- Takeout from Minerva in Natick. Pretty good except for not getting what we ordered. Our double order of lamb biryani arrived as lamb vindaloo, good thing Mrs. Me wasn’t there! The vindaloo was suitably spicy at least. Solid butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, something else I’ve forgotten. They also completely forgot our curried chickpeas. Nice samosas. Average or better quality, normal quantity, bad accuracy.
- Lunch at Pho and I in Boston. Nice lunch specials, maybe a dozen to choose from at $7.50 apiece. Carl got the ho fun — how could at least one of us not? — and liked it well enough but we both preferred my basil fried rice, fragrant and a bit spicy, full of flavor. Fairly large portions. Good service. Unusual curving space with a bar snaking along one side, actually a pretty good use of an awkward space for a restaurant.
- Lunch at Johnny Rockets in Logan Terminal C. I was desperate. I can’t review JR because I have already wiped the entire sordid affair from my memory (although I may still be digesting the cheeseburger).
Mixed results in both cases, for a change. At Moby Dick, I tried the unagi rice bowl, and while the barbecued eel was fine, the dish didn’t have much else going on. Best to stick to raw fish and tempura at MD, in my experience. We did try a roll whose name I forget but it involved tuna, spicy sauce, and I think it was fried: delicious. The one-two meal-starting punch of salad (love the peanut dressing) and miso soup also remains a winner.
We intended to order lunch over the weekend from Ruan, but they didn’t answer their phone. Shut down due to hurricane? Or maybe they’re taking their annual weeklong vacation? I’m guessing the latter, did not bother driving by to confirm (they always put a sign up front when they’re on vacation). Anway, we fixated on Thai, so it was Nava’s gain. Making further, uncharacteristic effort to branch out at my favorite mainstays, we tried the Thai fried rice from Nava, which though replete with pork and onions was unexciting (though the leftovers made a pretty good lunch). Pad thai and crispy duck kaprow were as good as ever.
There hasn’t been much eatin’ (out) in Wheaton over the past month, a deficit that must be remedied over the rest of 2011, but there was some eatin’ out elsewhere. For example: we tried Silver Spring’s relatively new Kao Thai (8650 Colesville), which turns out to be no threat to Wheaton’s Thai restaurant dominance. KT has pretty good pad prik khing, but not as good as Ruan’s exemplary version. Pra Ram, a dish not offered in Wheaton as far as I know, is okay, kind of bland peanut sauce. KT’s Panang curry is thin and wan, not close to Nava’s league. Pad Thai is fine. Overall not bad, but not worth leaving Wheaton for.
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.