Dining on a Shoestring: Pan-Asian to Savor

“Pan-Asian” sets off alarm bells for people who enjoy Asian food. It often means many types of Asian cuisine from one kitchen but few done well. In Gaithersburg’s Kentlands community—beyond the Buca di Beppo, past the Whole Foods—is Batik, which turns out surprisingly good renditions of everything from Thai to Indonesian to Filipino to fusion.

With silk lanterns and pendant lights, the space looks like an upbeat lounge. Soft jazz flows from the speakers, and strings of translucent shells dangle in the windows.

Our waiter kept up the cheerful mood. He told us the pork barbecue skewers we ordered were made according to a family recipe, and he gave us a rundown of his other favorites.

Selections from the street-cart-inspired “small eats” section of the menu arrived first. Four firecracker shrimp ($7), loosely wrapped in a wonton skin with a strip of sun-dried tomato and a sprig of cilantro, got punch from a sweet chili sauce. The pork skewers ($6), two per order, were smoky and enhanced by a plummy barbecue sauce.

The kitchen makes all the inventively filled dumplings. “Soul-full” dumplings (six for $6), filled with minced chicken and collard greens, are satisfying if you like lots of ginger. A set called Madras Magic (six for $6), with Indian curry-spiced chicken, diced carrot, and scallion, are so good that the restaurant touts them on the servers’ T-shirts.

An entrée of kway teow ($10), which tastes like drunken noodles without the spice, was a table favorite. Its rich brown sauce envelops wide rice noodles, chunks of chicken, and spears of broccoli, all topped with crunchy bean sprouts and fried shallots. Despite a scattering of jalapeños, spicy ginger beef ($12) didn’t quite live up to its name, but the slightly sweet sauce glazing the beef, thin rice noodles, and abundance of bell peppers and zucchini was nice just the same.

Malita sticky rice makes a wonderful finish. Sweetened coconut rice sits atop a drizzle of brown-sugar sauce and a sprinkling of shaved toasted coconut. A slice of tart kiwi balances the sweetness.

Lunch specials are a deal. For $8, you get any kind of dumplings (five per order) with a salad and fried rice. That price also buys an entrée with a salad and an order of Shanghai rolls; add a bowl of soup for $2.

With values and flavors like these, Batik is taking the stigma out of “pan-Asian.”

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner (closes at 9).

This article appears in the May, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.  

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