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Wild Curry and Cha Gio Cafe 

Mild at heart The food's a bit tame, but Wild Curry makes an honest effort

Living a few blocks away from the restaurant now officially known as Wild Curry and Cha Gio Cafe and having witnessed its constant reinvention in the past few months, I'm glad it seems to have settled into an identity. The Le family, owners of decades-old Cha Gio, sold the eatery in June 2003 to Thai owners, who have put the spot through its paces with monthly makeovers. It reopened as Cha Gio and Wild Curry, featuring a double-sided menu with items from "Mrs. Le's Vietnamese Kitchen" and "Wild Curry Thai Kitchen." The restaurant then became just plain "Wild Curry Thai Cafe and Market" for a few weeks to emerge as its current Vietnamese and Thai cafe/cooking school/marketplace/gift shop self. The Wild Curry and Cha Gio Cafe sign looks fairly permanent, and inside the jumble of renovation has settled into a jewel-toned, moodily-lit dining room.

Trading spaces: The restaurant's lobby, formerly the awkward site of dining tables, has been transformed into a small but thoughtfully kitted out Asian market. Midtowners with a hankering to whip up their own Thai and Vietnamese favorites will find some of the necessary ingredients in the artfully decorated grocery at very reasonable prices. A nook in the dining room too close to the men's bathroom for seating is now a small gallery displaying photographs of travels through Asia.

Get the Pho outta here: Throughout its changes, Wild Curry's food has stayed impressively consistent, although prices have unfortunately crept up. The Vietnamese crepe ($10) is a lacy omelet stuffed with bean sprouts, carrots, vegetables and meat, thoroughly delicious and sized for two meals. The Pho ($7) is nothing exceptional but perfectly acceptable. Although the Vietnamese soup smarts with an overdose of white pepper, the lean beef slices mingling with the rice noodles are fresh and succulent.Wham Panang, thank you ma'am: Grilled beef salad ($7) ordered "pretty spicy" is about as hot as the ground peanuts sprinkled on it but is nonetheless a tasty combination of sizzling beef, crispy lettuce and limey tang. Perfumed with coconut milk, the Tom Yum shrimp soup ($5) is creamy and satisfying, but also a bit too mild. Panang curry ($12) is attractively presented with a small dome of rice on the side and is wonderfully crunchy with red peppers. The portion is large enough to satiate, small enough to finish. Like the Masaman curry ($12), the Panang's chili heat is overshadowed by its sweetness.

Wild Curry and Cha Gio's pricing seems a bit high, but given its higher-dollar neighbors, it actually represents a fair value for Midtown. Those who like Asian cuisine dressed up and toned down will certainly enjoy the eatery. All guests will appreciate the soothing interior and obliging service. Just make sure to ask for extra spice.

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