Many of us are green with envy reading all of the wonderful posts about the blowout at the Laboratorio. But most of us are not green (or flush) with cash, and therefore we'll have to make do with some of the more modest, but perhaps equally delicious, pleasures that can be found 'round here.
Whilst our friends were each spending $250 on one fabulous meal with Donna, I just so happened to be spending approximately $90 -- total -- over a couple of days on ten (10) terrific meals. Two meals apiece at Moby Dick, Ba-Le and Daruma I probably don't have to tell anyone about: their virtues are well-described elsewhere on this Board.
Worthy of more attention was another great dinner at Colorado Kitchen. I'm getting to the point where I think this might actually be the neighborhood restuarant of one's dreams. My six-year-old and I had a very quick bite before the dinner rush on Thursday. He professed to be wholly uninterested in dinner, but changed his mind right quick at the mention of the luscious CK onion rings, which just so happen to accompany one of the best burgers in town. (The bottle of Orange Crush didn't hurt, either.) On the waitperson's recommendation, I resisted the lure of the Caramelized Brandy Pork chop w/Spaetzle & Red Cabbage, and the temptation of the Shrimp-Toasted Monkfish with Roasted Tomatoes & Polenta, and ordered the Moroccan Chicken Casserole ("Chicken & onions, layers of phyllo, Nuts, Cinnamon and sugar"), instead. (I had expressed some curiosity about it; and she guaranteed that it would live up to expectations.) Sure enough, it was terrific -- and utterly unlike anything else I've had at CK. Together with approximately 30% of the youngster's burger, I was happily sated. Plus, I noticed for the first time the clever little drawings in the rest rooms. For those who haven't yet enjoyed the pleasures of CK, check out two things: The infamous Gillian Clark letter to Tom Sietsema (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/...), and the little paean to the "coveted corner piece" (of pineapple upside-down cake) on the CK website (link below). If either or both of those are enticing, then you're probably the sort that will enjoy CK.
Then Friday night, post-Snickers-fest, I happened to be driving through Wheaton and noticed a nondescript sign, in a strip mall on Amherst Avenue, for Ruan Thai. I've had a lot of bad-to-mediocre Thai meals in Wheaton over the years (none very recently), and thus I'm not typically on the lookout for untested Thai joints in that nabe. But something compelled me to peek in and, whadda ya know? -- the modest little place is packed with Thai patrons, chowing down on a remarkable array of stuff that doesn't look like the typical (i.e., D.C.) Thai fare. I ordered three things for carry-out -- the "Yum Sam Krob" (crispy dried shrimp, squid, and cashews "with lime juice and seasoned"); Mhoo Korb Pad Prik Khing (sauteed crispy pork with string bean and hot chili sauce); and Pla Pad Chas (stir-fried catfish fillet with hot chili and "special Thai sauce"). All delicious. More importantly, while I was waiting I saw a bunch of other stuff arrive at tables that I'm anxious to taste very soon, such as shredded papaya salad, chicken with cashews and scallions, fried rice (every table appeared to have ordered one version or another), stir-fired watercress, Hoy Tod (the mussel omelet thing), and, especially, Pla Tod Sam Los (crispy flounder with "three flavor sauce").
This place reminded me of Chowhound Hall of Fame restaurant Sriprathai, in Queens. Not quite as good, but really homey, and unpretentious, and wide-ranging, and yummy. (It was kinda the polar opposite of Tara Thai, except for the aquamarine shirts worn by all the servers.) DC is full of very decent, reliable, "Americanized" Thai places; but I had foolishly given up on the idea of ever finding anything more authentic and eye-opening. (In fairness, the one time I was at Thai Sqaure, it showed real promise; and I've never been to Rabieng.) I was being silly. There are, of course, Ruan Thai-like places off the beaten path, if only one knows where to look. I had, unfortunately, glossed right over the handful of recommendations on this Board for RT (principally penned by Dinwiddie), because of my knee-jerk aversion to any sentence with the words "Wheaton" and "Thai" juxtaposed. Won't make that mistake again.
Joe H. is correct that we're really fortunate to have in our midst Fabio and Roberto and Michel, etc. But we're equally fortunate that there are a bunch of unpretentious, down-home kitchens in this area that are churning out delicious, inexpensive fare with pride and love. I can now add Ruan Thai to a list that includes, e.g., Colorado Kitchen, Joe's Noodle House, Ravi Kabob, Huong Viet, Ba-Le, Rita's, Udupi Palace, Algazera, etc. (I know this is just scratching the surface. Nominations for additions to the list?)