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Editorial Review

Neramitra: Look Forward to It

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2008

At first glance: Neramitra Thai Cuisine, whose name means, roughly, "something to look forward to," shares an undulating neon-edged beige brick street front along Crystal Drive with Jaleo, Bebo Trattoria and Ted's Montana Grill, among others. (The birds' feeding station near the door is part karmic generosity, part tribute to co-owner Sittha "Bird" Chindasumpanda.) The interior is painted with large wedges of plum and mauve splashed with Cowsills-era amoeba florals in rings of teal, orange, sand and chartreuse -- a motif reproduced on the china. The bar stools are plush-topped chrome cones.

On the menu: Neramitra shares part ownership with Fairfax's Sakoontra and Rockville's Thai Farm, and the menus are similar (though each has its own quite distinct decor). The kitchen pays close attention to the details, especially dipping sauces, that make familiar dishes freshly satisfying. Neramitra does not use MSG.

At your service: The staff is outgoing and attentive; the manager makes frequent circuits of the room. When only a couple of waitresses are working, they tend to seat smaller parties near the bar, because they have to do some double duty. If the television distracts you, ask to move to the dining room.

On the table: On the "specials" list are several dishes that have become regular items at Neramitra, notably tangy catfish (or salmon) fillets over fresh eggplant slices with a basil-chili sauce, and a first-rate salad of artichoke hearts, grilled shrimp, bell peppers and fried tofu in a spicy lime dressing.

Fried calamari is unusually large (it looks like a platter of fried onion rings), but despite the size, which implies older, tougher squid, it's light and tender. The spring rolls are crisp, and tastier than the bland versions too many Asian kitchens turn out. The chicken satay, four large tenders for $6.95, has a fine dipping sauce with real peanut flavor and a bit of heat.

Kanom jeep dumplings with minced pork and shrimp are moist but not "bouncy" as those steamed too fast often are. Shrimp dumpling soup in a light broth holds not only a half-dozen delicate wontons but an equal number of large lumps of crab -- a low-calorie, low-budget luxury for $7.

Green curry seafood (scallops, diamond-scored squid and shrimp) is very tender, and the curry has just enough bite not to muddy the shellfish flavors. Panang is not the usual heavy peanut-coconut cream, but a lighter red curry-style sauce with a nutty accent. (Most curries can be ordered with beef, pork, chicken, seafood or vegetables.)

The roast duck breast in the gang ped yang, a classic southern Thai red curry, is just pink and remains tender in the sauce; there's a little pineapple, but only enough to balance the coconut milk. The kitchen stir-fries the wide, and unusually sweet, soft rice noodles into separate little knots, almost like fork-scrambling eggs, before adding the other ingredients; that way, the noodles don't clump together.

What to avoid: Order away; everything is worthwhile.

Wet your whistle: Neramitra has a full bar, about a dozen wines and 10 beers.