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Ruan Thai: Thai Smackdown

s
Steve Aug 29, 2005 06:16 PM

As a continuation of our Thai Smackdown, a group of us recently went to Ruan Thai in Silver Spring to see how this small storefront stacked up against some of the best in the area.
Wow! I loved it. We had a lot of dishes, but the following eight were very special:

12*** yum ma keau, spicy grilled eggplant with pork and shrimp (smokey flavor)
***special, watercress with squid, dried shrimp and cashews (yowza, a unique dish)
47*** mhoo korb pad prik khing, crispy pork with string bean and hot chili sauce (like a jerky, soft and chewy)
57*** whole fish with chili sauce and basil (served super crispy. One of my favorite whole fish ever)
64*** ped pad kha prao, stir fried boneless duck (one of the only fiery dishes of the night. Too good.)
81*** pad kha na, chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (perfect)
82 ***pad watercress, stir-fried with black bean sauce (in case the special watercress in unavailable, this is a fine substitute)
87*** tu-fu pad kha prao, stir-fried tofu with hot chili green pepper and basil (hot pillows busting with flavor)

Others, such as larb, sliced grilled beef salad, papaya salad, fried crispy duck were very good renditions; hard to find better.

A few dishes provided some thorns:
77 guay teow kee mao, shrimp with rice noodles and hot chili sauce (too ketchup-y)
96 hoy mang poo ob mor din, steamed mussels (plump, but boring)
yellow curry chicken special – I would order this again IF I could convince them to turn on the heat.

This gets my vote as the most delicious and interesting Thai around. If anyone out there thinks there is better, then please tell me!

  1. r
    RC Aug 29, 2005 08:55 PM

    Ruan Thai is as good as Thai food gets, IMO. The yum ma keau and the ped pad kha prao are personal faves of mine also.

    There's a new place Annapolis caled Lemongrass that's in roughly the same league as far as cooking, although the menu is more standard. Also, Rice in the Logan Circle area is sort of hit and miss, but it serves a pretty spectacular grilled eggplant appetizer, even better than Ruan Thai's.

    1 Reply
    1. re: RC
      b
      bacchante Aug 30, 2005 11:20 AM

      Interesting that you mention Rice. I'm not sure I've seen much mention of it on here. I've only had lunch there once on a Saturday. I wasn't expecting much because of the glitz, although Bangkok 54 also is a bit glitzy. Then my interest perked up when the menu said something about home-style cooking or something like that.

      I only had pad thai. Yea, i know, but it is the ONLY place here where I have been served pad thai as I had it in a coffee-shop kind of place in Bangkok. It was somewhat like a cross between an omlet and a dosa, with the egg pancake very thin and the noodles, meat, sprouts, etc., rolled up in it rather than a fluffy pancake folded over once.

      It was very good but not enough of a sampling for me to judge the restaurant.

    2. d
      Dennis S Aug 29, 2005 10:23 PM

      I've only had limited eating at Ruan, as I live in NoVA (Reston, prev. Arlington) and when I'm in Wheaton, I have SO MANY great choices.

      Anyway, I really like Ruan. One of the best. Still, I find it falls short of the Columbia Pike offerings. I like Ruan's chili sauce offerings, and their string beans are great. Great atmosphere. Still, when matched up to Thai Square, I just can't call it even.

      Just my opinion, and nothing knocking Ruan, especially if you're in the area, one of the best for sure, but only a possible second or third in my book.

      1. p
        PollyG Aug 30, 2005 10:09 AM

        I thought Ruan was on a par with the other two top contenders we tried, which were Bangkok 54 and Thai Square. In retrospect though, nothing was all that incendiary. For those of you who go there often, was that typical?

        In comparison, we had a disappointing chow lunch at Rabieng, where the appetizers were good but the entrees were vapid and drowning in sauces.

        Full reviews of our Thai Square, Bangkok 54, and Rabieng experiences can be found by searching the board. I'd be delighted to have Ruan Thai, Thai Square, or Bangkok 54 open an outpost in the Reston/Herndon area, where Thai restaurants are plentiful, but the quality just doesn't measure up to these standards.

        Bangkok 54 is the place to take your trendy but timid friends. It has a high gloss interior with modern light fixtures. The other two venues are more of the "We don't care about the interior, bring on the chow" variety. Ruan Thai is in a somewhat grungy strip mall; Bangkok 54 and Thai Square are on a grungy strip of Columbia Pike.

        9 Replies
        1. re: PollyG
          m
          Marty L. Aug 30, 2005 11:19 AM

          Polly: I've had more incendiary fare at Ruan. I suspect they toned it down for us -- not dramatically, but noticeably. Next time, we should remember to urge them not to pull any punches.

          1. re: Marty L.
            r
            RC Aug 30, 2005 12:38 PM

            Actually for me what distinguishes Ruan Thai from the competition (like Thai Square, which I've been to and like also) is the subtlety and balance of the flavors. That being so, too much spice can become counterproductive, since you end up not being able to taste anything but the heat. The yum ma keau is usually quite spicy when I've had it, though.

            There's another Thai restaurant in Wheaton a couple of blocks from RT called Suporn's which is also quite good, and the chef there will make the food hot enough to burn your face off if you ask. Probably the spiciest food I've ever had, and I grew up eating spicy food.

            One place I haven't tried is Duangrat's. Anybody been?

            1. re: RC
              p
              PollyG Aug 30, 2005 12:56 PM

              I ate at Duangrat's the month they opened. For a while, it was our "go-to" Thai place with relatives and out of town guests. The interior is elegant, with museum-quality (to my untrained eye at least) ceremonial pieces in niches in the walls and silk-clad waitstaff. And you could trust them not to burn your face off, which was good for novices to Thai cuisine. The food was good in the first years. They had a wild board with green peppercorn dish that still stands out in my mind as particularly memorable.

              But over time, the food got blander, the tables pushed even more close together, and the experience less special. We take the same people to Neisha now, where the food is better. Neisha is a bit like Thai fusion. Some of the dishes are classic Thai dishes, others seem to have some western influences in presentation and composition. But their eggplant appetizer is deliciously smokey, with plenty of spice to balance the sweetness of the vegetables.

              1. re: RC
                b
                bacchante Aug 30, 2005 12:59 PM

                Thanks for your point about spiciness and comment on balance of flavor. I agree with you entirely.

                I'm sure you know that the idea behind Thai cuisine, as well as certain other cuisines, is to ensure that dishes have balance of flavor (and texture) without any one thing standing out. Likewise, the idea is to pair dishes that provide balance of flavor and texture to the meal. It's not merely a culinary point but a reflection of life philosophy.

                I think one of the things that impressed me at Ruan Thai was in fact the balance of flavors. It was what troubled me about the noodle and shrimp dish, which did happen to be among the spiciest we had. It was too unilateral in flavor.

                In answer to your question about Duangrats: yes, and don't bother. Perhaps I shouldn't say that, not having been now in years, but I think others on here would agree. When it was just about the only Thai food around, it was great to have it. But when we discovered others, we never went back and haven't heard anything that has changed our minds.

                We did continue to go sometimes to Rabieng (same owners), where there were some good dishes. But as Polly says, our lunch there was surprisingly lackluster.

                1. re: RC
                  m
                  Max Sep 5, 2005 10:58 PM

                  Suporn's is the best... Very spicy and very rich curries. The salads are interesting and tasty too.

                2. re: Marty L.
                  b
                  bacchante Aug 30, 2005 12:46 PM

                  Marty, we can try. When we ordered the appetizers, Roe did try to convince them to make it authentically and to give it to us as they would serve it in Thailand, with me nodding my head in agreement all the way.

                  We also did the same thing for the lunch at Bangkok 54, where it didn't work either. Even though they know me there. I have had the same dishes served to me much more spicy than they served us at that lunch.

                  I suspect that, all our pleading aside, when they see a large table of us, they simply can't believe that we all would want it very spicy.

                  Another point is that all food in Thailand is not incindiary. What I mean is that there can be great variation in how spicy even the "spicy" dishes are in the same restaurant. And nothing I had in Thailand was as incindiary as Korean soup that I've had here. I don't know whether it was toned down for me or not, but I was not eating in restaurants that attract tourists but in small places either by myself or with Thais or Americans who spoke fluent Thai.

                  1. re: Marty L.
                    s
                    Steve Aug 30, 2005 01:43 PM

                    I've had the eggplant salad there before, and it was hotter the first time. But y'know what? It was still delicious.

                  2. re: PollyG
                    b
                    Bob W. Aug 30, 2005 12:23 PM

                    Polly: You're not big on Thai Luang? That place really knows how to turn up the heat.

                    1. re: Bob W.
                      p
                      PollyG Aug 30, 2005 12:43 PM

                      I agree that Thai Luong is the best of the Reston/Herndon area. Their crispy duck dishes are particularly good. But they just don't measure up to the level of deliciousness of any of the 3 I mentioned above.

                      In addition, their service can be painfully slow on occasion, which is hard on the chowpup.

                  3. b
                    bacchante Aug 30, 2005 11:11 AM

                    I agree. Although for me, they are a close three, with Ruan Thai edging out the others. Some dishes are superior at one places and other dishes at another.

                    One thing I really liked about Ruan Thai is that their menu lists dishes that I haven't seen elsewhere. So more visits required.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bacchante
                      d
                      Dennis S Aug 30, 2005 11:52 AM

                      bacchante, I agree but on the other side, where TS has the edge. They also have at least one dish I've not seen anywhere else, and that is the spicy squid salad. Sort of Larb Gai-ish, but firey and on steroids.

                      I agree with Polly that any one of the three in Reston would be a god send.

                    2. d
                      dinwiddie Sep 2, 2005 11:23 AM

                      Ruan Thai was my wife's favorite Thai restaurant, and we have had some very incindary things there.

                      Lately however, she has wanted to go to Amina Thai on Nicholson Lane in Rockville. It is different, halal (Muslim) Thai food. We have enjoyed it very much. Is it as good as Ruan Thai, well a little different, but very good. Nicer decor though. The service has always been great and the food excellent.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dinwiddie
                        s
                        Steve Sep 2, 2005 09:28 PM

                        This sounds promising. Any particular items we should look out for?

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