The Needle: Bangkok 54, Black's Bar & Kitchen, and Zentan

What's hot and what's not in the region's dining.

Singapore slaw at Zentan. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Bangkok 54
Meat eaters who vow never to let tofu touch their lips might revise their stance here. The spicy tofu with basil is one of the best tofu dishes we’ve tried in the area. The pressed bean curd is coated with chilies, slow-roasted to concentrate the flavors, then scattered with fried basil leaves that lend a subtle crunch and perfume. Its excellence is matched by a delicate red curry that brings together shrimp, butternut squash, and toasted cashews. Not everything on the menu sings so beautifully, but the occasional misstep is offset by the handsome room, gracious service, and surprisingly good wine list. -Todd Kliman

Black’s Bar & Kitchen
You still can enjoy well-cooked fish and a mean plate of fried chicken, but Jeff and Barbara Black’s sleek Modern American dining room could use more attention. One visit revealed a side order of runny mac and cheese decidedly lacking in, well, cheese. À la carte Brussels sprouts were doused in black pepper, and the scallops’ accompaniments—sautéed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes—were dull. Sides matter, especially at a place where many dishes don’t come with any. -Rina Rapuano

This hotel restaurant from Toronto-based chef Susur Lee, of Top Chef Masters fame, still has its charms—friendly servers, generous portions, and good seasonal additions such as the ham-and-jam plate, an appetizer of Mangalitsa ham with house-made pickles and black-currant jam. But a Sunday visit disappointed with its abbreviated menu and B team in the kitchen. XO shrimp and scallops arrived without the promised spicy kick and tasted overcooked. A lobster/eel/scallop sushi roll lacked its usual precision in both flavors and texture. Desserts remain a weak spot—ice cream was freezer-burned—and cocktails were off balance. Perhaps more oversight from the intense Chef Lee is in order. -Rina Rapuano

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.