They keep em happy down on the farm

Southeast eatery proves simple fare need not be boring

The Farm Cafe stays open until midnight, and it's easy to imagine actors in stage makeup from nearby Imago Theater stopping by for a cocktail and an eggplant burger after a performance.

The Farm's cuisine is as light as the breeze wafting in from the patio. You'll leave feeling fed but not fattened. If your image of a farm includes slabs of country-style bacon and freshly formed sausage, this is more of a bunny patch. The Farm's menu is culled from local, organic ingredients and contains no meat or poultry.

Unless you're a stubborn carnivore, though, you won't notice the absence of beef or chicken. The menu offers plenty of distractions. Main courses are made up of seafood, salad, pasta or combinations of the three, all priced under $13.

A comely combination of masculine and feminine dŽcor best describes the considered atmosphere of this 10-week-old restaurant. Housed in an 1880s farmhouse at East Burnside and Seventh Avenue, it has a wraparound porch that affords sunny al fresco dining and poignant views of close-in Southeast, shabby Burnside to the north and the barely visible city center to the west.

Instead of playing up its quaintness and femininity with cream or yellow walls and tasteful art, the cafe's proprietors have used hues of chocolate brown with spiky floral arrangements and framed poster art.

While the regional wine and beer lists are pleasing, you need never stray from the $3 house white, a delicate Helvetia chardonnay that complements everything on the menu, or the Country Cooler Ñ Pabst Blue Ribbon splashed with organic lemonade Ñ which also tastes great with all the menu items.

Most of the time the simplicity of the Farm's dinners is magic. Plump, quarter-sized scallops grilled until slightly smoky and served over a wilted spinach salad need no more embellishment than garlic, shallots and a thick lemon wedge.

Lightly blackened salmon on fresh linguine with a very subtle pesto benefits more from a trail of ripe cherry tomato halves than it would from an elaborate sauce.

Grilled halibut, on the other hand, is too austere. The fish is firm and cooked perfectly, but with dry rice and plain mixed vegetables, the plate is a little too similar to low-fat spa cuisine.

Vegetarians will enjoy bringing meat-loving friends in for tofu steak and garlic mashed potatoes. This will be the Farm's signature dish, especially in winter. Tofu slabs are dredged in panko, a Japanese ricelike grain that forms a crunchy crust when sautŽed but allows the tofu to retain its moisture. Creamy, buttery potatoes can be delicious, but this chunky vegan version has a wholesome, nourishing comfort and gets plenty of flavor from the mushroom and Marsala wine sauce that is ladled over the whole meal. People who think tofu is bland and uninteresting will be shocked at how delicious and filling the protein- (and fat-) rich soybean derivative is.

So far the cafe has been crowded every night of the week. Reservations aren't accepted, but you can usually find a spot to eat at the bar.

The Farm seems to have found a perfect niche: Serve creative (unhealthy) alcoholic beverages with healthy and inexpensive cuisine, play new-wave hits from the Cure and Depeche Mode, along with more current indie music such as the Magnetic Fields, in a lively, buzzing atmosphere that makes you feel like you're out for a night on the town without ever going downtown.