{sstar}{sstar} (2 stars) Ginger Cove/Ginger Reef

822 E St. NW (at Eighth Street). Ginger Cove: 202-248-6007. Ginger Reef: 202-248-7733.

Ginger Cove open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday 6 to 11 p.m.; closed Sunday. Ginger Reef open Friday 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday 6 to 11 p.m.; closed Sunday through Thursday. All major credit cards. No smoking at Ginger Cove; smoking in bar area only at Ginger Reef. Metro: Archives or Gallery Place. Prices: Ginger Cove lunch appetizers $5.50 to $10.50, entrees $9.50 to $14; dinner appetizers $6.50 to $10.50, entrees $11.50 to $17. Ginger Reef appetizers $8 to $12.50, entrees $19.50 to $23.50. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $40 per person at Ginger Cove; about $55 per person at Ginger Reef.

One of the more enticing trends on the local food scene is the swell of different dining options offered under the same roof by the same owners. Witness Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria -- where callers are asked if they want to reserve in the cozy bistro or the more upscale chef's tasting room -- and the even more varied Galileo in downtown Washington. There, diners can opt for the original main dining room; the grander Laboratorio del Galileo, where chef-owner Roberto Donna personally prepares a feast for a privileged assembly; or his newly minted Osteria del Galileo, serving simple Italian pastas and meat dishes in a corner of Galileo's bar.

Behind these multiple choices is the restaurants' wish to reel in customers for other than special occasions. Face it, diners don't always feel like dressing up, eating foie gras or truffled pasta, and having to skip a mortgage payment just to eat well. Restaurants-within-restaurants allow for another kind of experience: sauteed chicken or fettuccine with sausage on a school night. You're in, you're out, and no one has to work overtime to pay for what transpired.

Veteran Washington restaurateurs Jimmie and Sharon Banks put a slightly different spin on the concept when they opened the two-pronged Ginger Cove (in January) and Ginger Reef (in April) in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. Ginger Cove, located on the street level, could pass for a beach party, with its alternating green, yellow and sea-blue color scheme and menu of "reggae" chicken wings and lunch sandwiches made with roti, the crepelike, whole-wheat Indian bread. One flight of stairs down is Ginger Reef, which speaks more to Saturday night on the town. We're talking sophisticated fare -- roasted quail and stuffed leg of lamb -- and, at least for now, weekend hours only.

I looked forward to trying both. Good island food is a scarce commodity in the city, and the Bankses (husband Jimmie plays host, wife Sharon cooks) have made it their mission to raise the profile of Caribbean food, beginning in 1987, when they launched the funky Fish, Wings & Tings in Adams Morgan, and later with the more polished Hibiscus Cafe in Georgetown. (Both are no more, and Red Ginger in Georgetown, which the Bankses also once ran, is now under new management.) Their fans hoped the couple's latest production would unite the best of their previous endeavors in a single setting.

If there's one thing Jimmie Banks knows how to do, it's throw a good party. On any given night, the upstairs bar brings together a rainbow coalition of faces, everyone elbow to elbow and cheered on by joyous music. It might be 2004, but Washington doesn't mix as well as you'd expect of a world capital. Ginger Cove and Ginger Reef provide a delightful exception to that norm.

The drinks help fuel the fun. Few restaurateurs blend a better tropical libation than Sharon Banks, whose glorious fruit punches whisk you away to somewhere warm and breezy. Take your pick from the ginger-spiked pineapple or the mellow melon, springboards for a roster of refreshing rum cocktails. For a nice companion to those eye-opening drinks, at Ginger Cove you can order the whimsically named appetizer Tobago Shark & Bake, thin slices of pesto-rubbed shark slipped into folds of pita-like bread. Think of it as a classy kind of hot pocket (and it's doubly hot, thanks to the fruit chutney spiked with fresh ginger and habanero chilies). With a plate of meaty ribs splashed with a tingling dark-red sauce in front of you, it's easy to pretend you're eating beneath sunny skies with your toes in the water. Sharon Banks's riff on chicken wings tickles me with its tangy tomato sauce shot through with rum, even though the wings sometimes taste warmed over.

The best situation to find yourself in at Ginger Cove is tucked into a front booth -- the chairs in the rear, with their faux fishbone backs, are pretty uncomfortable -- and eating the chef's beer-battered fish and chips at lunch or her surf and turf at dinner. The latter teams tender pork with zippy shrimp and a gingery soy sauce for dipping. Alas, it might take awhile for the goods to land on your table, particularly at lunch. Friendly as they are, some of the staff members act as if they'd been plucked off the street to wait tables for the very first time. And social as he is, Jimmie Banks can't be everywhere, all the time, to tend to guests' needs.

A stroll downstairs finds a cavelike dining room, flanked by a blue-lit bar and offering a view of a glass-enclosed kitchen. Here in Ginger Reef, the tropics are invoked with metal sculpture sailboats, soothing wall colors -- and, as upstairs, servers who sometimes operate on island time. "Anything to drink?" one of them asked my friends and me after we'd been seated for several minutes but had not been given a beverage list. It then turned out that our first choice wasn't available and that "the wine list is a work in progress." (Uh, how long has the place been open?) The appetizers help smooth over the rough patches. Craggy, fluffy-centered seafood fritters appear with a chunky tomato dip whose seasoning suggests electric barbed wire -- yeow, it's hot! -- while a pot of small but meaty mussels in sweet curry broth reminds me that not all steamed mussels are alike. Slices of grilled bread atop the shells encourage swabbing. Crab cakes adopt an Indian lilt with cumin, and are nicely seared.

Main courses in Ginger Reef are less even. The roasted quail, massaged with jerk spices and fiery chilies, is just as luscious as I remember it from the old Hibiscus Cafe, though its sweet-potato puree could pass for something you'd get in a pie on Thanksgiving: much too sweet. A second entree, peppercorn-crusted beef tenderloin, is surprisingly tame. Pasta Carnival, on the other hand, is just right, a generous bowl of noodles tossed with tasty clams, shrimp and fish, and a light but lusty curry-coconut sauce.

Desserts are the same in both dining venues. They include raisin-dotted bread pudding, creamy mango cheesecake and -- my pick -- a duo of creme brulees. One is flavored with coconut, the other perked up with coffee. In both, crackling tops give way to silken custards.

Upstairs or down, my tendency is to go heavy on the appetizers, splurge on the true-tasting cocktails and bring along some patience. Ginger Cove and Ginger Reef add up to an engaging, if imperfect, double feature.

Ask Tom

Amid the many calls, letters and e-mails I get complaining about absent or neglectful service in restaurants, I discovered a gripe highlighting the opposite problem, from reader Mitch Katz of Arlington. "Last weekend my family and I had dinner at La Panetteria, a family-style Italian restaurant in Bethesda. While I appreciate attentive service as much as the next guy, our waiter was overbearing," Katz e-mailed. "While friendly, he seemed to be constantly lurking around the table, asking us if everything was okay and moving very quickly to take away our plates -- at times, even before we were finished eating." Katz added: "His constant hovering made the meal less enjoyable. Any suggestions for how to deal with such a situation?" One method that has worked for me is to look the server in the eye, smile a la Miss Manners and let him know, "We're fine, thanks, and we'll let you know if we need anything else. But right now, we'd really like to focus on being together."

Got a dining question? Send your thoughts, wishes and, yes, even gripes to asktom@washpost.com or to Ask Tom, The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include daytime telephone number.