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Duangrat's - Touristy Thai in Bailey's Crossroads


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I've always been surprised that two restaurants haven't had their own threads here: L'Auberge Chez Francois and Duangrat's.

The "word" on Duangrat's is that it isn't good, and that Rabieng's a much better option (though I've also heard less-than-complimentary things about Rabieng). I hadn't been to either in years, but I had dinner at Rabieng about a month ago, and was very pleasantly surprised. Could Duangrat's really be that far behind its sibling? It was only fair to give it another try.

Although some may find the dining room and costumes at Duangrat's kitschy, I found them charming, but not just charming. Look around closely at the room - despite being in a run-down building, the dining room is spotless, the walls and ceiling are clean, the carpet looks fine, and the linens are crisp and without odor (do not take this for granted - I could indict about 20 high-dollar restaurants downtown whose linens flat-out stink because they're using the wrong linen service). The dining room is well-staffed, perhaps even over-staffed, and service is unfailingly gracious and polite. In short, everything about Duangrat's makes the diners feel comfortable, even if the notion of Thai cuisine might be drawing them away from their comfort zone. These are not small details, and to successfully implement them costs the restaurant a good deal of money.

And Duangrat's is expensive for a Thai restaurant, perhaps even the most expensive Thai restaurant in the DC area: Entrees run in the mid-teens, with specialty items running into the upper $20s. The money for all that comfort has to come from somewhere. Look at the prices of these signature entrees.

So, did the food stand up to the luxury of the dining room, the relatively expensive prices, and the reputation of this award-studded restaurant?

The meal started with a bowl of Tom Yum ($4.95) - shrimp in lemon grass & roasted red chili seasoned broth - that picked up right where Rabieng had left off - this was a very good soup, with just the right balance of spicing and heat, mushrooms floating on top, and several decent shrimp waiting down below.

An accompanying Papaya Salad ($7.50) - Shredded green papaya, tomatoes & garlic tossed in fresh chili-lime juice - was refrigerator-cold, completely devoid of heat, sweet, and lacking acidity.

Unfortunately, the Papaya Salad, not the Tom Yum, was the harbinger of things to come:

Fresh Rolls ($5.95) - Soft rolls freshly prepared w/ thin slices of Chinese BBQ sausage, egg, firm tofu, cucumber, bean sprouts- topped w/ tamarind sauce

Wing Fancy ($4.95) - Pair of crunchy fried chicken wings stuffed w/ minced shrimp & cellophane noodles

and the topmost item listed under their signature entrees:

Chiangmai Chili Pork ($15.95) - Panko breaded strips of tender pork loin wok-tossed in our scintillating signature chili-garlic sauce, green beans & asparagus

The Fresh Rolls were a nightmarish combination of Japanese maki and Indian papri chaat, a roll cut into six pieces, and smothered with tamarind. The first piece received points for novelty, but it became heavy going by the end, and the tamarind sauce - which had a little yellow smear of something resembling honey-mustard, was a haunting cousin to McDonald's Chicken Nugget dipping sauce.

I only bring up the dipping sauce because of the Chiangmai Chili Pork, with its dried-out, nugget-like pieces, having all the character and flavor of, yes, chicken nuggets. Saved only by the few pieces of asparagus resting among the laughably mild chili-garlic sauce, this dish was simply not finishable, and half of it remained on the plate when dinner was over.

The Wing Fancy was a flavorless attempt to stuff two chicken wings, and desperately needed the bright-red bowl of sweet, bottled dipping sauce it came with. There was nothing at all here, and although this dish had "zero stars" (the stars indicating heat level), it wasn't that much less spicy than the two-star papaya salad or Chiangmai chili pork, both of which could have easily registered a zero.

I avoid Americanized Thai whenever I can, but I remember about three years ago I went to the Tysons Corner Busara. And while I recognized that the sauces were sweet, and that the food was targeted at Americans, it really wasn't all that bad. Duangrat's, however, was Americanized and bad - so bad that (Tom Yum aside) it could have been served at a cheap American hotel banquet - it was almost unrecognizable as Thai, and quite honestly, I would be ashamed to be working there if I were a member of the staff.

And so went the worst Thai meal I've had in years. On the way out, I took a close look at their wall full of awards from various publications, but the most recent one I saw was from 2005, which is the year this website was founded, and right around the time when the internet started wielding its influence over area restaurant publications. Somehow, I don't think this review will find its way alongside of the others.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Can you name the bad linen companies so we won`t make the mistake of using them?

I can only name the restaurants, not the linen companies, because I'm not sure who contracts with whom. That said, a couple of years ago I commented twice in one week about the napkins stinking at two different restaurants, and got an email the next day from the President of a linen service - apparently they were both his clients and he was wondering WTF! :(

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I've had nothing but good to great meals at Duangrat's over the last two years. Not sure I can tell Americanized Thai vs. non-Americanized, but the food has always been very good.

For example, the simple Penang Curry has good quality chicken (dark meat, braised well), rather than the simple, strip-cut white meat you see in so many of the Thai restaurants around here. Also, I've had good success with ordering whole fish there (Rockfish, flounder to name a few) - always very good quality and flavorful. Noodle dishes like Pad See Ewe and Pad Thai have been better than most of the places I've tried (though Thai Pilin in Tysons has been pretty good too).

I've never ordered any of the dishes that Don ordered so YMMV. And yeah, it is on the expensive side, but we've enjoyed our meals here a lot. :(

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For example, the simple Penang Curry has good quality chicken (dark meat, braised well), rather than the simple, strip-cut white meat you see in so many of the Thai restaurants around here. Noodle dishes like Pad See Ewe and Pad Thai have been better than most of the places I've tried (though Thai Pilin in Tysons has been pretty good too).

I've never ordered any of the dishes that Don ordered so YMMV. And yeah, it is on the expensive side, but we've enjoyed our meals here a lot. smile.gif

This was the experience of our table, as we ordered pretty much those things. The dishes were a bit sweet (curry, especially) and the spice level toned down (drunken noodles), but everyone enjoyed their meals and the decor and atmosphere is pretty and welcoming. It's a nice place to take a (friend's) mom out for a Thai meal when she is nervous about the cuisine, which is exactly what we were doing. FWIW the dining room was mostly full while we were there, and the staff and ourselves were the only Asian folks in the room...

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