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Tube starts to tinker

Svelte Old Town cocktail spot tries to push menu beyond the novelty shapes, tastes of opening day

As watering holes go, Tube lays claim to the most eye-popping design in Portland.

Unleashed last September, the nightspot is equal parts fierce cocktail lounge, digital art gallery and fishbowl. The tubular interior, formed by green fiberglass and offset by walnut paneling, is a daring design that would be more at home on Mars than in Stumptown. Thank God for something different.

But can you eat there? While other patrons sip Soma-tinis and let the atmosphere seep into their senses like one of Moby's sonic collages, it's possible to forage at Tube, decently even, if you choose very carefully.

Tube's current menu is a marked departure from the souped-up casserole fare it opened with. A list of snacky 'sides and sorts' and a few almost-entrees replace its former, tube-shaped servings of macaroni and cheese and vegetable quiche. This shift allows the cook, stuck in Tube's microkitchen, to do even less work and may represent an attempt to reconcile the food's aesthetic with the high-flying architecture. Tube's holy trinity of sleek, stark and steely does not call out for comfort food.

Now the food is wisely designed for sharing. Unfortunately, much of it is plucked from a jar or bag just before being plopped on your plate. The nut quartet, for example, tastes like it came straight out of Costco. The heaping serving of candied walnuts, slightly spicy almonds, peanuts in the shell and pistachios would be impressive if the walnuts were sugared and the almonds were seasoned on-site.

The fruit and cheese arrangement Ñ pears and apples with sometimes-stale crackers and Grafton cheddar you are forced to slice with a butter knife Ñ feels tossed off. A platter of pecorino, olives, crostini and radishes is a greater success because the ingredients are of better quality.

Some items, such as the lentil salad, are simply boring. Really, who is going to eat an entire dinner plate of chilled lentils?

Then there's the boquerones, anchovies cured in vinegar and oil. Fresh anchovies, and some salt-cured varieties, are delicious. But these little fishes, pickled into oblivion, are abusive to your taste buds.

Not surprisingly, the more labor-intensive dishes are the most rewarding. One night yielded an earthy, satisfying soup (the soup changes nightly) of purŽed rutabaga and celery, agreeably served with a grilled cheddar panino. The unassembled p‰tŽ sandwich is a happy minipicnic of country (coarsely ground) p‰tŽ, gherkins, hard-boiled egg, mustard and radishes.

Naturally, the cocktail is the true star in this spaceship, although be advised that most of Tube's trademark drinks are maraschino-cherry sweet.

An excellent choice for those who like a little pucker is the Ornery Lu: Absolut Citron, fresh ginger, lemon and ginger ale. And Tube has terrific beers like Guinness and Pilsner Urquell on tap.

Service is efficient, not at all standoffish, although it was perplexing to hear Ñ early on a Saturday night Ñ that the kitchen was out of both the croque-monsieur (a French-style grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and tuna-stuffed peppers.

Tube isn't trying to be a restaurant restaurant, and that's fine. But with a modicum of effort, the food could be nearly as sassy as Tube's style. It wouldn't hurt to try.

Contact Christina Melander at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..