When you’re scanning the menu at Red Parrot Asian Bistro, alarm bells might start to sound in your head. Thai chicken satay next to Indian curries and Korean barbecue? Sushi rolls stuffed to the max with cream cheese, then deep-fried? But the restaurant—a spinoff of siblings in Baltimore and Hanover, Maryland—can be surprising.
Take the music, which is unexpectedly cool, veering from the Local Natives to Deerhunter, and the friendly server who looks like a college student but is unusually well versed in Asian cuisine. Then there’s the vast menu, uneven but peppered with hits.
You could eat well just grazing among certain starters: puffy, light, and well-spiced vegetarian samosas with a terrific cilantro dip, a chili-stoked green-papaya salad, and cool Vietnamese summer rolls. Best of all are the soft, pillowy buns filled with roast duck—these reminders of New York’s Momofuku are as delicious as they are trendy.
Although the hefty sushi rolls might take traditionalists aback, creations like the Fancy Dragon Roll—filled with shrimp tempura, then wrapped with avocado and sweetly glazed eel—and the yellowtail-stuffed Dynamite Roll actually work. (Just watch out for any maki with mayonnaise sauce, which is globbed on with a heavy hand.)
Bigger plates are erratic: Wide rice noodles tossed with beef, onions, carrots, and tomato pack a curry punch, while pad Thai falls into the trap of being overly sweet. You’ll find a good Korean bibim bap—the meal-in-a-bowl featuring rice, pungent kimchee, beef, and a fried egg. But the Korean beef called bulgogi is wanly flavored despite its sizzling, smoky presentation. And an Indian-inspired green curry is watery and light on chicken.
Still, order carefully and there are pleasures to be had in this sprawling Ballston dining room. In fact, we’ll take another round of those duck buns.
This article appears in the July 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.