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Originally published August 21, 2009 at 12:04 AM | Page modified August 26, 2009 at 12:50 PM

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Corrected version

Restaurant review

Fresh Bistro: Visually wonderful, but taste doesn't always match

The creative menu at Fresh Bistro is calculated to set any ardent foodie-heart aflutter. Some dishes read better than they taste, but you won't go wrong ordering sweet-potato crab cakes, roasted poussin or nutty quinoa cakes, one of several vegetarian-friendly options.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample dinner menu

Sweet-potato crab cakes $9

Shiso-crusted honey-pecan

prawns $12
Vegetable quinoa cakes $19
Roasted poussin $20
Kurobuta pork New York $24

Fresh Bistro 2 stars

Contemporary American

A4725 42nd Ave. S.W., Seattle

206-935-3733

www.freshbistroseattle.com

Reservations: Accepted

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 4- 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; brunch 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Prices: $$$ (lunch $7-$14; dinner $8-$28)

Drinks: Full bar; small but varied wine list with an emphasis on small producers.

Parking: On street or in parking garage across the street

Sound: Very loud.

Who should go: West Seattle locavores, vegetarians and bar flies; but leave the kids at home.

Credit cards: All major

Access: No obstacles

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Fresh Bistro, which opened in May on the ground floor of West Seattle's new Mural Apartments, is an offshoot of Dalis Chea and BJ Duft's thriving catering operation Herban Feast. It's designed with their signature ecoconscious glam: glossy emerald-green concrete floors, intricately patterned tabletops made from compressed sorghum stalks; and eye-catching displays of dried grasses and gourds. Multihued glassybabies are everywhere.

The food is carefully styled too, and the creative menu is calculated to set any ardent foodie-heart aflutter. Pale pink sriracha foam clings to shiso-crusted honey-pecan prawns. Red huckleberries glitter among pea shoots and pan-roasted scallops. Crispy little fried anchovies embellish the Baby Caesar. But some dishes are overly fussy or under-seasoned, or simply lack the vibrancy you expect from a place called "Fresh."

The prawns do succeed. It's hard to tell if those speckles of green are shiso, but the shrimp are large and succulent, and the honey plays well against the foam's low-key heat. The scallops sauced with brown butter and agrodolce achieve subtle tension between rich and tangy, but it's nearly undone by the tart huckleberries and too much preserved lemon.

Sweet-potato crab cakes dabbed with chipotle aioli were irresistibly good too. Roasted rosemary-scented poussin was exquisite, though it wasn't rosemary but star anise that haunted every bite. The spice is in the brine and the tiny chicken's crackling, burnished skin comes glazed with a slightly sweet pluot gastrique tempered with lemon thyme.

A wonderfully moist New York-cut Kurobuta pork chop must have been brined as well. Zestfully seasoned and coated in a gossamer butter-and-wine sauce, the chop snuggled among pea vines, chanterelles and truffle-scented roasted fingerlings.

More vegetarian options have been added in a recent menu change, including nutty quinoa cakes capped with melted Estrella Creamery tomme. It's a busy dish with arugula salad on top of the cheese and a wreath of bland baby vegetables around the quinoa. The menu says "caramelized," but they tasteed steamed. A vivid yellow-pepper reduction did liven themup.

Two cold soups are vegetarian as well. Crispy parsnip and leeks float on a satin-smooth parsnip vichyssoise; alas it was not very parsnip-y. Tomato-corn soup is two soups in one bowl. When the bright tomato broth meets the intense sweet creaminess of the corn, a frisson of flavor ensues, but the rubbery smoked-mozzarella crouton stubbornly refused to soften.

Sometimes the menu reads better than things taste. Pea, pecorino and poached-halibut salad on brioche toast sounds so light and summery, but once again preserved lemon played the spoiler, and a heavy dusting of grated pecorino made the salad almost as dry as the toast.

An open-faced meatloaf sandwich on herbed focaccia was hungry-man sized, with an inch-thick slab of excessively lean beef resembled hamburger more than meatloaf. On the side was a nondescript pink sauce the menu calls "charred tomato aioli." I wouldn't have guessed.

Salt isn't part of the table décor but a few things needed it, including the Baby Caesar and the wonderful clutch of sautéed wild mushrooms that kept company with a peppercorn-studded, grilled wagyu striploin. That brawny steak was overly accessorized with sauce soubise (which tasted a lot like the parsnip vichyssoise), "soy pudding" (I couldn't find it) and three Dairy Queen-like curls of puréed Yukon Gold potato that were cold.

The staff is enthusiastic and industrious but they are still feeling their way. Wine and food knowledge was sketchy. Pacing was problematic at lunch. Coffee came but sugar didn't.

Spent dishes and utensils stayed through dessert, which includes a clever take on "Smores" made with a frosted brownie, toasted-marshmallow ice cream and a flame-shaped Graham cracker tuile. The ice cream was killer; the brownie was dry.

The divide between catering and restaurateuring may seem slim, but there's a vast difference between the two. A successful restaurant demands front and back-of-the-house consistency, day in and day out.

Visually, Fresh Bistro is worthy of a Martha Stewart Living cover. Time now for management to focus their prodigious talents on raising the food and service to the same competitive level.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

The information in this article, originally published August 21, 2009 was corrected. Because of an editing error, the star rating was left off the Dining Deal review of Fresh Bistro in West Seattle. Reviewer Providence Cicero gave Fresh Bistro two stars, or a "recommended" rating.

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