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Oct. 28, 2007

"Green Papaya" shows mixed colors

by Alisa Lu, Online News Editor
In the ritzy, glitzy section of Bethesda, scores of restaurants featuring food from Italian to American line the picturesque streets. In the heart of these restaurants stands Green Papaya, a Vietnamese restaurant with a fantastic atmosphere but a disjointed menu that includes both mouth-watering and utterly bland dishes.

At first glance, Green Papaya seems like a typical downtown Bethesda restaurant with stiff white napkins, muted lighting and soft music playing in the background. But the subtle details like oriental ceramic dishes and lotus-shaped ceiling fans make the Green Papaya stand out in a blend of Eastern and Western culture – a theme also often reflected in its dishes.
Bo Luc Lac, Green Papaya's signature dish, is a perfect blend of beef and vegetables in presentation and taste. Alisa Lu
Bo Luc Lac, Green Papaya's signature dish, is a perfect blend of beef and vegetables in presentation and taste.


The food arrives after only 10 minutes, but it's soon obvious that though the appetizers are almost perfect, the entrees need consistency. The appetizer Cha Gio is fried-to-perfection spring rolls stuffed with pork, crabmeat, shrimp, bean thread and scallions. The accompanying sweet and tangy sauce enhances the piping-hot roll and balances the meatiness of the filling. Bo La Nho, a plate of four charbroiled rolls filled with marinated beef and wrapped with vine leaves, sits atop a bed of snow-white vermicelli. Thankfully, the unflavored vermicelli cancels out the oiliness of the otherwise perfect rolls.

The entrees are all eye-catching but, unlike the appetizers, their flavors do not always live up to their presentation. The Hu Tieu Xiao, sautéed rice noodles with chicken, shrimp, scallions and bean sprouts, arrives on a grand white platter with colorful garnishes, but the dish is tasteless and boring. The noodles are drowned in oil and have no redeeming qualities. In comparison, the Cari Ga, chicken and potatoes in a creamy curry sauce, is bursting with flavor. The slightly spicy curry sauce has undertones of coconut and ginger, allowing the diner to forget its one vice: undercooked potatoes.

The restaurant's signature Bo Luc Lac is simply perfect, with chunks of tender beef with vegetables in a black pepper sauce. The crisp vegetables balance the heaping amounts of tender beef while soaking up the delectable sauce.

The Bo Hoac Ga Xao Rau, chicken sautéed with vegetables, is decent but too common. The dish, chicken mixed with baby corn, red pepper, carrots, broccoli and celery in a thickened broth, is well-balanced but blatantly Americanized.

Although the menu is mainly meat-based, vegetarians do have a few options at the restaurant. Green Papaya offers a small but varied menu of five vegetarian dishes in all different styles from stir-fry to curry-based.

The restaurant's relaxing atmosphere and amiable service unfortunately make the price a bit high for many Blazers to make Green Papaya a frequent dining destination. The occasional trip for a special night or just a night on the town is a must as the food is worth every penny, if the correct dishes are ordered. Typical appetizers range from $4 to $6 (excluding delicacies such as quail) and entrees range from $10.95 to $23 for dinner, although most entrees are around $11 to $14.

As soon as the delectable appetizers and varying entrees are finished, waiters immediately appear to clear the table. Every time a glass of water becomes half-full or empty, waiters appear to refill the glass within minutes. Such service gives an attentive and pampering feel to the atmosphere. In addition to great service, the restaurant's warm feeling coupled with its comfortable design makes the diner feel welcome. From the vaulted ceilings to the well-spaced tables, every detail makes the ambiance cozy and peaceful.

The cozy atmosphere, attentive service and select delectable dishes make Green Papaya a wonderful spot to relax and escape from the stress of everyday life.

Green Papaya is located at 4922 Elm St., Bethesda, MD 20814. It is open from 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday, 12:30 p.m – 10 p.m on Saturday and 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Sunday.



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