No. 70: Bangkok 54
Too often, Thai restaurants that have style lack substance, as if glittery dining rooms and neon-hued cocktails were enough. Some that have substance lack style, as if the quality of the cooking were reward enough. Bangkok 54 brings the two extremes together, with a cool, sophisticated dining room, a fashionable open kitchen, a flat-screen TV by the bar, Pinot Noir and Gewürtztraminer by the glass, and a roster of dishes that are colorful, imaginatively presented, and often carefully done.
Few restaurants can appeal to so many different dining constituencies, from the timid (a tuna steak bathed in a kaffir-lime curry sauce is a canny marriage of East and West) to the willing (both the edamame beans suspended in a crunchy finger of fry and the fried butterflied shrimp are served in a martini glass) to the thrill-seeking (a dry-sauce dish of deep-fried tofu with crispy basil is a gorgeous, less-guilty variation of the irresistible fried pork belly with crispy basil).
Nack Vorathiankul, who owns Bangkok 54 with her two brothers and husband, does the shopping, hitting the Maine Avenue and Florida Avenue markets with her siblings for fish and vegetables. No surprise, then, that you can hear the pop in the shrimp and the crunch in the green beans and taste the sweetness of the mussels. The meats, particularly chicken and beef, are mostly undistinguished, poor partners for their gutsy curries. But amid the glamour of the buzzing dining room, you might not even notice.