The chefs at Lemongrass fill two different Annapolis eateries with visions of modern Thai cuisine. To do so, they keep an array of spices at their fingertips—dried red peppers, curry powder, kaffir-lime and basil leaves, ginger, and blades of that eponymous lemongrass. Pinches and spoonfuls of such seasonings lend nuanced flavors to a long list of dishes, including pad thai, sautéed mussels, panang curry, and pepper beef. Cocktails and desserts such as sticky rice with mango top off each meal with a tasteful style that recalls Abe Lincoln's signature cake hat.
After strolling past clusters of Chinese eateries and shops, it might be a bit surprising to find an authentic Thai restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. The aroma wafting out of Kanlaya Thai Cuisine’s kitchen is unmistakably one of Thai cooking—a tangy mixture of basil, chili, black bean spice, and kaffir lime leaves. The fragrance only grows stronger and more enticing upon entering the bright, clean dining room and taking a seat at one of the glossy wood tabletops. Attentive servers bustle across the hardwood floors of the elegant space, taking orders, making suggestions, and noting diners’ spice preferences. Bartenders dart about behind a tiny corner bar, doling out imported beers and garnishing fruity cocktails with umbrellas and fresh fruit.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, chefs are hard at work, folding natural ingredients into a sweeping array of aromatic traditional dishes. Using time-honored Thai cooking techniques, the chefs whip up fiery coconut curries, tangy fried rice, and noodle dishes with meat, seafood, and tofu. To craft their specialty pottery shrimp—a favorite of food critic Robert Shoffner of the Washingtonian—the chefs simmer shrimp, cellophane noodles, napa cabbage, and mushrooms in exotic spices. The chefs take great care in the presentation of their dishes, decorating meats with swirls of carrot flowers, serving rice in bowls made of pineapple halves, and dishing pad thai noodles onto plates made of Renaissance oil paintings.
At Thai Tanic II's Columbia Heights location, cooks prepare seafood and poultry curries, peanut-tinged noodles, and exotic salads made from savory chicken larb or fresh papaya. Slender vases of yellow flowers adorn the center of each glossy black-and-yellow table, while a high, lofted ceiling looks down at plates that carry a bounty of pad thai noodles or a single delicious baseball card. Guests can sip tropical cocktails at the bar or chow down on fluffy pillows of seasoned tofu and flavorful mélanges of fresh mussels and seafood.
The traditional spices of Thailand weave throughout the dishes at Charmthai Restaurant. Grassy, rich basil shows up in the savory roasted duck curry and the basil-fried rice, while chili paste adds a kick to the curries and the slurpable drunken noodles. The slightly sour flavors of lemon accent fish dishes, such as the steamed tilapia in a sauce of blended chili, garlic, and lemon. Those spices even permeate the dessert menu, with custard made with a hint of coconut and fried bananas paired with green-tea ice cream.
Located within walking distance of the DuPont Circle metro station, Bangkok Thai Dining artfully balances the five fundamental flavors of Thai cuisine daily. Inside the restaurant, candlelit tables and exposed-stone walls create a heady atmosphere for dinner dates or romantically tense geological surveys. Vegetarian options are available for all main meals, which include traditional stir-fries, noodles, and curries. Afterward, desserts can cool palates with tastes of fried ice cream or thai coconut custard.
At Vannipa Thai restaurant, cooks introduce tastebuds to the complex, perfectly balanced flavors of Thai cuisine with dishes culled from all-natural, MSG-free ingredients. Like a Rodin sculpture made of marzipan, each dish is an edible masterpiece: Bone-white dishes frame colorful peppers and coriander leaves, slices of Thai eggplant, or morsels of roasted duck and fried fish. Palm sugar sweetens papaya salad and pad Thai, whereas spicy Thai peppers and curries add piquant notes to dishes including chicken stir fry and steamed rockfish.