A bawdy sign and a bargain bar menu announce the recent arrival of a lounge at the eclectic Southeast Belmont restaurant Wild Abandon.

The Red Velvet Lounge is really more of a state of mind than an offshoot, since little has changed cosmetically except the addition of a crimson curtain dividing the small dining room.

What is new is the idea that Wild Abandon works well as a bistro, where you can stop in for a quick cocktail or a plate of grilled tequila-lime prawns, and as a destination dining spot.

Owner Michael Cox, who opened Wild Abandon seven years ago, says he created the lounge to squash the perception that the restaurant is only for special occasions.

'I always wanted people to feel comfortable dropping in to share an appetizer or have a drink,' he explains.

Wild Abandon's cuisine could be called nouveau American in the sense that it grabs flavors from across the globe and tweaks traditional recipes. The lounge menu offers some beloved items from the dinner menu, such as the goat cheese torta, and introduces fun choices such as the Glamour Burger. Ground beef from Montana cows that were actually raised in a pasture, not a feedlot, is stuffed with Gruyere, grilled and served on a Grand Central rosemary bun with lemon-garlic aioli and all the fixings for just $7.25. All the food on the bar list is under $13.

Red Velvet's specialty cocktails include Stoli

orange gimlets and margaritas made with just-squeezed lime juice.

Wild Abandon and the Red Velvet Lounge, open seven nights a week and for breakfast on weekends, are at 2411 S.E. Belmont St., 503-232-4458.

Poor man's Pearl

Pho Van Bistro, Hot Lips Pizza, Daily Cafe, Manzana Rotisserie Grill, Pizza Schmizza, World Cup Coffee & Tea, Gordon Biersch Brewery and Sin Ju all have either opened in the last year or will open within months in the Pearl District.

That's swell news for neighborhood residents and workers but makes the business of running a profitable restaurant even harder for some existing eateries.

Little guys such as Holden's and Little Wing Cafe are adding liquor to keep pace. Hogan's Goat Pizza, which morphed from the Soup Station last summer, is adding beer and wine and pasta dinners to its lineup come May 1. It also has brought back two daily soups.

'We'll be the poor man's dinner house,' says Hogan's Goat owner John Burrowes. 'We'll spare no expense shopping for the finest cutlery and plates É at the Goodwill.'

Hogan's Goat Pizza is at 520 N.W. 12th Ave., 503-228-2466.

A taste for fighting hunger

April 29 marks the 15th anniversary of Taste of the Nation, which allows ticket holders to sample tidbits from some of Portland's top restaurants, all under one roof. But most attendees love the benefit more for where their money goes Ñ 100 percent to hunger relief agencies.

Tickets are $70-$85; call 503-222-4644.

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