There's something nerve-racking about entering a restaurant without any customers. My gut reaction is to leave. But that's mean.

Besides, the empty restaurant I'm talking about had only been open less than a week, and an empty brand-new restaurant doesn't have the painful, desperate vibe of a deserted older restaurant.

In fact, the staff at Mississippi Station (3943 N. Mississippi Ave., 503-517-5751) was relaxed and friendly. Of course, it was easy for them to provide good service since we were the only customers, but they managed it with a certain panache that bodes well for busier days.

Even though I reminded myself that this was a new restaurant and not affiliated with Bold-Sky Cafe (Mississippi Station has taken over Bold-Sky's former digs), the efficient service was still a relief after so many experiences waiting and waiting for food and drink in the same space.

The interior hasn't changed much. It mostly has the same attractive, funky look of Bold-Sky, except for new tables and chairs.

I've only been to Mississippi Station once, but the small menu is, so far, very good. Chef Derek Hanson comes to the restaurant by way of Wildwood and Clarklewis, where he clearly learned a few tasty tricks.

Pan-seared halibut with asparagus is cooked to perfection, with a thin, delicate crust and a not-too-sweet berry vinaigrette. Beet salad with peppery watercress, crunchy shaved fennel and a thin but creamy lemon vinaigrette explodes with flavor. (It would be even better if the beets were chopped smaller.) Excellent Dungeness crab salad also uses watercress, plus thin, delicate slices of tangy grapefruit and pickled red onion. It's dressed with sumptuous avocado purée.

The buttermilk onion rings aren't the large, thick individual rings I prefer, but the tangled mound of thin, greasy deep-fried onions is seasoned just right and will make a great late-night snack after a show at the live-music venue Mississippi Studios next door.

Mississippi Studios owner Jim Brunberg is not an owner of Mississippi Station, but the two businesses do have a strong relationship. For one thing, they share an entrance: Clientele now must walk through the restaurant and out the back to get to the entrance to the club. The restaurant's owners (an engineer, a sales rep and a doctor) are his friends who, Brunberg says, 'I somehow conned into thinking opening a restaurant was a good idea.' He describes himself as 'their publicist, spiritual adviser and friendly neighbor.'

Brunberg hopes that music-goers will think of Mississippi Station as a nice place for dinner or drinks before and after shows.

Food prices are very reasonable. At $13 the halibut is the most expensive thing on the menu, and it's a steal.

But beer prices are insane. A pint of Stella Artois is $7! You can get two pints of Stella at the Aalto Lounge for that price. And the waiter's explanation that 'importing is expensive' doesn't fly. Terminal Gravity IPA for $5 a pint seems high, too - and that's only 'imported' from Eastern Oregon. If you can stomach the ubiquitous PBR, it's just $2 for a pint. Fortunately there also are some decent pints for $4 and bottles for $3. There also are cocktails.

The food is enough to send me back to Mississippi Station again; I just can't afford to drink my favorite beer.

Much-needed air conditioning should be up and running within a couple of weeks.

Mississippi Station is open Tuesday to Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.,

* * *

After months of delays, Kinta (3450 S.E. Belmont St., 503-473-2598) finally opened in Southeast Portland on June 15. Husband-and-wife team Dennis and Phan Mai wanted to open Kinta because Phan missed the food of her native Malaysia.

Kinta's 'Malaysian-inspired' menu has lots of options for vegetarians or vegans, with a big emphasis on vegetables (although carnivores can add grilled chicken or shrimp to most dishes). Each entree includes four vegetables chosen from Kinta's vegetable bar.

The restaurant is a kind of a Malaysian Macheezmo Mouse (for any longtime Portlanders who can remember that place) with its emphasis on healthy, quick food. It also has a full cocktail bar in addition to the vegetable bar.

If you're looking for more traditional Malaysian food, visit Malay Satay Hut (2850 S.E. 82nd Ave., 503-771-7888). But for a lighter, modern twist on the Southeast Asian cuisine, give Kinta a try.

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