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January 2006 Bangkok 54 Restaurant

THE SCENE. Endoo Tonkphontong's Thai cooking eats as good as the place looks. Walls of granite gray and Chinese red, a museumlike grid of shelves with native brass vessels, and vivid blooms make a vibrant backdrop for dishes both fiery and tame.

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. Savvy shopping—the owners make regular visits to local markets and the Southwest DC waterfront—and a passion for the assertive, authentic flavors of great Thai home cooking add up to an experience of rare exuberance. The small but respectable wine list is a welcome surprise.

WHAT YOU WON'T. Some experiments fall short of the mark. And specials of jumbo crab and whole fish can bloat the bill, so ask about market prices.

BEST DISHES. Lush and fatty pork belly crisped and tossed with garlic, chilies, and basil; stir-fried cress pungent with black beans and garlic; supremely munchable fried bundles of shrimp and shredded vegetables called Firecrackers; pad cha, a spicy stir-fry of seafood and sweet corn in red-chili sauce; classic shrimp in green curry with tender chunks of Thai eggplant; dense, creamy, fresh young-coconut ice cream.

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