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Warm welcome

The trio behind Holocene moved here to create a dream Ñ and did

Holocene is less a restaurant and more a utopian village. Walk into the cavernous space, previously home to an auto parts store, and you'll think you've discovered a desert oasis. The temperature is cool, ambient electronic music is being spun by one of the house DJs, and you're surrounded by oversize arrangements of exotic flowers, a 25-foot, raftered ceiling, giant mobiles and a majestic black cement bar. And that's just the front room.

The venue also features a smoking lounge, decorated with gauzy, white fabric hanging from the ceiling, and a raw club space where live bands can play.

The massive refurbishing effort of the corner space at Southeast 10th Avenue and Morrison Street came at the hands of three San Franciscans who moved to Portland together to open their dream business.

Jarkko Cain, Charlie Hodge and Scott McLean spent more than a year biking around Southeast Portland looking for a location (they quickly decided against trying to open in denser downtown or ritzier Northwest) and then negotiating a contract with their landlords. They then gathered friends, contractors and local artists to completely gut the 5,000-square-foot space, recycling some materials to create raw wooden tables, chairs and bar stools.

Now in their second month of business, the three have time to refine the menu and book local and touring acts including Gold Chains and Panther. They're also hosting special events such as a Seaplane fashion show expected to draw up to 1,000 spectators.

You'd expect the food to be a secondary concern, but the men of Holocene draw on their San Francisco restaurant experience and have scoured local menus to come up with their exciting brunch and dinner menus.

At dinner the plates are small and meant to be ordered tapas-style in duos or trios to be shared. Unlike some of Portland's wine bars, though, the portions aren't tiny, and instead of being served in a bunch of bowls, cluttering the table, the meals arrive on large platters, sushi style.

If you're at Holocene to drink and listen to music, you can nibble on olives and nuts, artisan breads with goat cheese, butter and a rich walnut spread, or cheese and sausage plates.

Heartier items include a beautiful piece of rare lamb rubbed with coarse herb salt and garnished with rosemary-caper salsa. Wild mushroom and fontina tartlets are decadent, bite-size treats. On the lighter side is a hazelnut crepe with chicken and farmhouse Gouda.

The cocktail list rivals those at Saucebox or Mint, with concoctions such as the Piaf, cucumber-infused vodka, pineapple and fresh mint, or the Kaffir Lime, a shot of cactus tequila infused with kaffir lime leaf and honey, then poured over ice.

Sunday brunch at Holocene is like a breakfast at some hip actor's West Hollywood pad. At

11 a.m., the DJ booth is already going with 'easy listening' such as Bjšrk. The Style section of The New York Times is passed around over breakfast drinks such as the Prosaic Ñ champagne, crushed strawberries and lavender.

After a trip to the smoking lounge, it's time to order. There are healthy meals such as fruit and yogurt Ñ we're on the West Coast after all. Or there are decadent choices such as waffles served with sweet house-made vanilla cream and cherries. The wait staff's favorite and standard 'shift meal' is the bread pudding. Artisan bread is treated with eggs, Black Forest ham, fontina and cheddar before being baked. It arrives with a fresh baby green salad with cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots.

Holocene and many of its denizens are so cool looking it can be intimidating at first. But, don't worry, Holocene isn't snobby or exclusive. You will be treated with just as much care sporting a golf shirt and Bermuda shorts as you would in a Juicy Couture halter dress.

Holocene's egalitarian vibe, friendly service and delicious food will help it rise above the status of a hip flash in the pan to a new Southeast Portland

institution.