Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa.
Prices: Appetizers $2.95 to $4.25, entrees $3.75 to $6.50.
We would cross town for Ghin Na Ree. The same couple has presided at the restaurant for eight years, but for some reason the rest of the Washington area has never noticed.
From the outside, certainly, nothing looks auspicious--it's set in a sprawling parking lot next to a Drugfair and a laundromat, and the restaurant itself is white brick with fake orange shingles and blue curtains. But inside, Ghin Na Ree (the name of a fairy tale) is a restaurant of delicate charm.
It's one of the prettiest Asian restaurants we've ever seen. The small room is painted in shades of teal blue and graced with flowers--there are tiny rosebud prints on the calico tablecloths, potted silk flowers hanging from arched trellises and contemporary graphics of tropical blossoms.
It's one of the most intimate Asian restaurants--there are only 13 tables and booths.
And the cooking is some of the best. The kitchen, run by the husband, takes great care with texture. At many Asian restaurants, for instance, fried wontons are a fried blob suffocating a dried-out speck of pork; but here the dough is almost paper thin and the fish is crispy--so much so that we ate the outer bones.
The dishes here are even more complex than at many Thai restaurants, with flavors that peel off the palate like layers of an onion. Spicy steak is hot with chili, puckerish with lime and fresh with galangal, like mowed hay. Steamed spring rolls, huge Thai burritos stuffed with cucumber, pork, bean sprouts and crab, taste salty and fermented sweet.
One of our favorite dishes is shrimp, scallops and squid with vegetables: The seafood is utterly tender, adorned with sprigs of crisp fried basil-like seaweed set against an inky brown sauce that's intense with basil and the scent of anise, accented with red and green darts of whole baby chilis. It's $5.95, one of the best dishes in town at any price.
The menu usually offers two daily specials, such as spicy beef tongue with carrots or whole butterflied rock cornish hen, in a wonderfully light coconut milk curry with cinnamon, shallots and cloves. Some dishes fall short of the standard; the special one evening, skewered beef, was woefully overcooked and served on a platter of iceberg lettuce and canned pineapple chunks. The sweet and sour pork was indifferent.
But--and this is unusual advice for a Thai restaurant--be sure to save room for dessert. Skip the usual canned lychees and order a mound of sticky rice infused with coconut milk and topped with a thin layer of warm sweet custard or framed with slices of fresh mango. If you call in advance, they might prepare diced water chestnuts coated with a red gelatinous sheen, that resemble pomegranate seeds, in a pool of coconut milk that's cold and crunchy with ice. It's an unusual dish, a satisfying end to a smoldering summer night.