December 2004Good Neighborhood Thai Near Logan Circle
The crowd in the dining room at Thai Tanic, a popular neighborhood Thai restaurant on 14th Street, pretty much reflects the growing population of its Logan Circle theater-district location--couples and singles, gays and straights, empty-nest older couples who have migrated back to the city. It's an affluent, professional crowd that knows something about Thai food and is more attracted to a traditional Thai restaurant than to the pricey nouvelle version of Thai cooking at Rice, just up the street.
Thai cooking in Washington has come a long way from the days when it was served in a bare-bones room decorated with a picture of the king and queen. Thai Tanic's name, its retro cherry-red vinyl upholstery, metallic accents, and lighting in lurid colors put it in the camp of restaurants like Tara Thai that have tried to create settings that match their food in spice, flavor, and appeal.
Like all the best Thai restaurants, Thai Tanic's large menu is a mix of the traditional and the innovative. To sample the full range of the kitchen, order a mix of the two. Don't worry about thinking in Western categories like appetizers, soups, salads, and main courses. Although they exist on the menu in deference to Western habits, in Thailand everything is served at once.
The appetizer section of the menu contains some treats. Tod Mun Par is a spicy and delicious version of the traditional Thai fish paste, served with a cooling cucumber-and-sweet-plum sauce. Green papaya salad, mixed with dried shrimp, potatoes, and string beans, is a good version of the dish, the crisp, cool green papaya offset by as much heat from chilies as you specify. Other old friends include Larb Gai, a room-temperature "salad" of ground chicken, chilies, and mint; Angel Wings, chicken wings stuffed with seafood and water chestnuts; and a very good Yum Talay, a spicy seafood salad dressed with lime juice.
Good main-course choices--it's hard to break the habit of thinking in courses--include crispy whole flounder with chili-based sauce; a splendid yellow curry, which can be made with salmon or chicken; and one of the innovations on the menu, Nua Ka-Ting, beef stir-fried with chili-garlic sauce and topped with fried basil--it's the hottest dish on the menu but full of flavor. Another very good spicy dish is Thai Tanic Lemongrass--chicken with chili, garlic, lemongrass, and fresh basil.
As at most Thai restaurants, the dessert of choice is mango and sticky rice, but the Crispy Banana is also a contender.
Thai Tanic has a menu of exotic house cocktails, such as the Bangkok Sunset, made from vodka, jasmine tea, and lemonade. I'll stick with the Thai beer Singha, which plays very well against all those chilies.