Eating In and Around D.C.: Nava Thai
As with NYC, to get the good Asian food you have to voyage to the outskirts of the D.C. metro area. The good Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. places are not likely to be found in lavish digs in the District, but rather in unassuming strip malls in Montgomery County, MD or Falls Church, VA. Keeping this in mind, last night I ate at Nava Thai, in Wheaton, MD, with my brother-in-law and his wife (who we will refer to as Max and Ruby), to celebrate my brother-in-law’s birthday.
Although I have lived in D.C. for the past year, this is the only restaurant review I have posted. It seemed fitting, however, since today is my last day in D.C. and I will be speeding home on the Acela this evening to resume my civilian life. It is not that I haven’t eaten in some good restaurants here, because I have (shoutouts go to the Greek Deli on 19th St) – but I have never worked up sufficient motivation to post about them, particularly since (it is my impression that) the majority of our regular readers are NYC-based. However, they will have to humor me on this one:
Nava Thai is located in a mini-strip of Asian restaurants and businesses just off of Georgia Avenue, near the Wheaton Metro station. It is not a “hole-in-the-wall” type place, but rather clean and fairly spacious. Tonight they were featuring musical entertainment, a Thai performer who sang and strummed proficiently through (English) versions of songs like “Moondance,” “Hotel California,” “Piano Man,” (with harmonica) and, interestingly, “My Funny Valentine.” Max and Ruby became big fans of this guy during the course of the evening and Max was heard to remark that he intended to hire him out for a party.
On to the food: To start with, we ordered Twice-Cooked Duck Salad, Larb Gai and some steamed dumplings. The Duck Salad was tart and favorful, sort of “sweet and sour” without being cloyingly sweet, with big juicy pieces of fried duck. The Larb was spicy (Ruby deemed it too spicy), with a hefty dose of ground toasted rice to give it some character, and a good balance of the classic thai flavors. The dumplings were robust and filled with an assortment of creatures – no veggie dumplings here!
On to the second course. Based on my snooping around the internet, I learned that the dish to order here, apparently, is the “Floating Market Soup.” So we ordered that, along with Crispy Duck Kaprow and Drunken Noodles (also both recommended). Fortunately, these recommendations did not disappoint. The Floating Market Soup is a noodle soup in a spicy reddish broth, with three kinds of pork – sliced pork, pork meatballs and pork rinds. The broth is notoriously spicy, and gets even more so as you progress to the bottom of the bowl, where all the chili pieces have sunk. The broth is also delicious, slightly sweet and tart and with a flavor that we couldn’t quite place. Later, I learned on the internet that the secret ingredient is pig’s blood.
Next up: Crispy Duck Kaprow. I wouldn’t call the duck crispy per se, at least not Colonel Sanders crispy – but it was tender, not too fatty and smothered in a pile of thai basil. Also, it came with rice and was not particularly spicy so it made a nice contrast to the fiery soup.
Finally, the Drunken Noodles. We ordered these with vegetables and tofu and they were delicious, easily some of the best drunken noodles I have eaten. The dish came chock full of a variety of grilled veggies, as well as giant pieces of tofu which were also “drunken,” i.e. steeped in the same sauce as the noodles. Here, there was an equal ration of noodles to other ingredients, unlike other versions I have eaten where you get a giant pile of flabby brown noodles with a few specks of meat or vegetables.
In short, everyone left satisfied. Max, a fan of all that is spicy, seemed satisfied with the level of heat that the meal had delivered. Our thai waiter confessed to us that he can’t handle the spiciness unless it is mild, which I thought was honest of him – I had assumed that the staff were secretly amused when we constantly blew our noses and reached for our water. As far as your humble J. Frankfurter was concerned, the meal confirmed my opinion that Nava Thai is capable of holding its own when compared to NYC’s better thai places. For those D.C. residents who love thai food, it is probably well worth the trip up to Wheaton to try it out.
So long, D.C.!