Steal a kiss: a taste of romance with your special someone


• Bernie's Southern Bistro

Instead of dishing up dyed-in-the-wool Southern classics, Bernie's tweaks soul food recipes to suit Northwest palates and to take advantage of local bounty.

So the seafood ŽtouffŽe may lack heat, while the moist buttermilk fried chicken Ñ skinless, boneless breast and thigh Ñ is a smart update that doesn't trade flavor for less fat.

From blackened catfish in bourbon-brown butter sauce to chicken-fried steak with creamy gravy and mashed potatoes, all the smash hits of Southern cooking are represented at Bernie's. Then there are nontraditional renditions such as roasted vegetable gumbo and pecan-crusted salmon with a dried cherry-port cream sauce.

Salads that change with the seasons Ñ house-pickled beets with wilted greens in the winter, strawberries and cucumbers bathed in a raspberry-mint vinaigrette in spring Ñ are especially appealing.

And deep-fried appetizers, including featherweight hush puppies and fried dill pickles, are a worthy indulgence.

Ñ Christina Melander

Bottom line: Seasonal Southern classics with a Northwestern twist

Serving: Dinner

EntrŽe prices: $12-$21

Address/phone: 2904 N.E. Alberta St., 503-282-9864

• Fife

When it opened late last year, Fife brought a blast of something edgy and delicious to residential Beaumont. The cooking and the vibe are at once sophisticated and accessible, qualifying Fife as both a neighborhood joint (with reasonable price points to match) and a white-hot destination.

Chef and co-owner Marco Shaw, formerly chef at Tuscany Grill, uses fresh, top grade ingredients to craft dishes that you might find at Grandma's table Ñ providing that Grandma is one terrific cook.

Fewer meals could be humbler than chicken cooked in a cast-iron pan, but Shaw's generous breast-and-thigh serving is insanely juicy and deep with flavor from accompanying mushroom sauce. Delicate roasted quails, sweet and tender in a shallot-garlic confit, are served with simple wild rice.

Market-driven fish selections such as Alaska cod and Pacific sea bass are consistent standouts and the spot-on crab cakes made with Chesapeake Bay blue crab can make a Marylander weep for joy.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: A welcome new spin on American classics in an up-to-the-minute setting

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $13-$19

Address/phone: 4440 N.E. Fremont St., 971-222-3433

• Lucy's Table

What you really must know about Lucy's Table is that pound for pound, it's cheaper than many of its peers.

It's also a warm, enveloping restaurant devoid of drafts, which may seem like a minor point Ñ until you consider what a bummer it is to eat dinner with your coat on. The richly hued dining room maximizes capacity without cramping diners; attractive bamboo arrangements are used to buffer a pair of tables from the busy corridor near the kitchen, thus there's not a bad table in the house.

Chef Thomas McLaughlin's weekly menu follows the seasons and veers from fragrant braised duck breast to a deep bowl of risotto that teems with some of the meatiest wild mushrooms you've ever met. Roast pork loin is stuffed with a

complementary mix of plump Carnaroli rice, nuts and dried fruits and served with a similarly bulging sweet onion. At $16, it's a flat bargain.

For more deals, park it at the bar from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. weeknights for $3 plates of goat cheese ravioli and baby back ribs.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Low prices should lure the not-so-deep-pocketed.

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $14-$21

Address/phone: 706 N.W. 21st Ave., 503-226-6126

• Ristorante Fratelli

Visitors to Fratelli enter the restaurant through a charming corridor that leads directly to the open kitchen where organic produce and fresh ingredients are being put to good use.

This bustling and well-lit portion of the room contrasts with the darkened dining section where the rustic wooden tables and candlelight create a definitive air of intimacy.

An antipasti that reflects the range of the kitchen's simple but creative touch is the

bruschette, an assortment of the traditional Italian toast topped with a variety of combinations including mascarpone and truffle with shaved beef. The starter spinach salad with roast beets, mint and warm hazelnut dressing perfectly balances the three distinct flavors.

A house favorite from the secondi options that lives up to its billing is the seared free-range chicken, which retains a moist tenderness highlighted by the surrounding prosciutto.

Even just a spoonful of the creamy gelato, made fresh on a daily basis, could make the wettest Oregon evening feel like a sunny afternoon in Florence.

Ñ Tina Satter

Bottom line: Romance rules in this rustic restaurant.

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $12.75-$20

Address/phone: 1230 N.W. Hoyt St., 503-241-8800

• Tuscany Grill

Tuscany Grill does a great job of simulating what the English call Chiantishire. The dŽcor is warm orange and brown, rustic knickknacks line the walls, and the chandeliers hang from rope and pulleys, giving a dramatic barnyard feel. Wood, iron, copper and Bose Ñ all the essential elements are there.

Chef John Gorham, formerly of Fratelli, is another local, seasonal guy, which means the mozzarella is made fresh daily and the lamb sausage is handmade. OK, so even Whole Foods does this kind of thing now, but it tastes better when you don't cook it yourself.

The prawn kebabs come on a bean salad, which is superb, as is the quail salad on a bed of overpowering pear sauce and frisee. A main course of tuna in puff pastry was delightful, the house risotto refreshingly simple. The tirimasu tower is worth a poke, too.

With the attentive service, it adds up to a pleasant, romantic evening.

Ñ Joseph Gallivan

Bottom line: Intimate and inviting, without a hint of brashness

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $13-$22

Address/phone: 811 N.W. 21st Ave., 503-243-2757