Why Thaiphoon?
The image is one of chaos, the last thing a fledgling
restaurant needs. It's just "something easy to remember," explains
owner Woody Tongrugs, who ran the two Jandaras, in Woodley Park and on
upper Wisconsin Avenue, before opening Thaiphoon in Dupont Circle.

Once you've made its acquaintance, Thaiphoon doesn't let you forget
it. The interior catches the eye with a window-wrapped dining room up
front and cozy booths in the rear painted the colors of asparagus,
burnt orange and lemon. Stylish amber lights illuminate a menu whose
moderate prices encourage frequent visits. Thaiphoon is one of those
rare restaurants where, no matter what seat you land in, you've got a
view of something interesting (my companion might be savoring the
sidewalk scene today, but I've spotted a late-lunching Betty Friedan).

The noodle dishes run oily and the desserts leave me cold. It took
some exploration, but eventually I tasted why there's often a wait for
one of Thaiphoon's 80 or so seats. For the most part, this is food
that wakes up your mouth, brought to you by servers who manage to slip
some graciousness your way every time they stop by your table.

No one in the neighborhood serves a brassier soup than the
demure-looking chicken and mushrooms floating in a broth of coconut
milk. A bowlful of beige, the soup nevertheless roars with the peppery
heat of galangal and a bracing jolt of lime. Fried won ton skins in
crisp triangles hide pinches of curry-tinged chicken, onions and
potatoes; the sweet-sharp cucumber dipping sauce makes a nice
complement. Peanut-sprinkled, citrus-splashed papaya salad is good,
but even better is shredded, honey-roasted duck tossed with ginger,
chili paste, greens and more. And among the entrees, you'll do just
fine with seafood, be it steamed rockfish perfumed by lemon grass or a
special of shrimp with pineapple and a tingling tomato sauce. The best
of the vegetables: bright, crisp string beans, delicately batter-fried
and enlivened by garlic sauce. It's the stuff of late-night,
home-alone junk-food fantasies.

Tom Sietsema
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