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DINING: Backward-named eatery, forward-thinking fusion

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Dining - A&E

Search the Web for Naisa and you may come up with the North American International Auto Show or the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. Neither has anything to do with the new Naisa Pan-Asian Cafe (1025 Virginia Ave., 602-3708), where the name comes from simply reversing the letters in the word Asian.

Thankfully, there's nothing equally gimmicky about the food or the spare decor.

For a first visit, we stuck close to the lunch specials and, while satisfied, wished we had gotten more creative. Tangerine Chicken ($7.25) offered chunky poultry parts in a light-enough batter with a deliciously peppered sauce. It proves that quality—and spicy sauce—doesn't always have to shout to be memorable.

The Triple Greens in Garlic-Chile ($5.95) was similarly flavorful. The greens in question depend on what's in season. On our trip, it was green beans, broccoli and celery, stir-fried in a tasty sauce that was just hot enough to make the side of white rice come in handy.

Like the 18 other lunch specials, these came complete with choice of Hot and Sour, Egg Drop or Wonton Soup as well as white or fried rice and a Seafood Cheese Wonton.

We supplemented with Rice Paper Shrimp Roll ($4.95) from the small plate menu. These eggroll-like appetizers are filled with shrimp, egg noodles and assorted veggies, but they escape the deep fryer. In fact, they're served cold with a trio of homemade dipping sauces: sweet and sour, hot mustard and duck sauce. We added the wasabi mayonnaise for a buck.

There is, for now, only one item on the dessert menu—Cinnamon Sugar Puffs with Honey Ginger Dipping Sauce. Eight of them come in a $4.95 order and when you do something this well, you really don't need much else. Who doesn't want to end a meal with culturally enlightened doughnuts?

___

First in our month-long exploration of new restaurants in the city's cultural districts.


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