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Originally published Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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Restaurant review

Five Bistro in Edmonds offers some flavor excitement

Five Bistro in Edmonds may be hard to spot but worth the stop.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Chop salad $6/$10
Pepperoni pizza $13
Carne asada $18
Salmon $18
Roasted lamb $19

Five Bistro 2.5 stars

Eclectic

650 Edmonds Way, Edmonds

425-563-7117

www.fiveedmonds.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Winter hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and Sunday, 5-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Prices: $$$ (Appetizers $8-$12; pizzas $12-$14; sandwiches and salads $5-$11; dinner entrees $14-$19.)

Drinks: Full bar; wines by the glass, carafe and bottle.

Parking: Free in lot.

Sound: Loud when full.

Who should go: Good for date night, lunch with the gang, dinner with the kids, or drinks anytime.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

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When Five Bistro opened a year ago this month, it looked like an also-ran in the Edmonds bistro derby. Its strip-mall locale on the outskirts of downtown seemed a disadvantage. From the highway, it's easily overlooked: the big red Romio's Pizza planted next door eclipses Five's low-slung, dark-brown digs, once the cluttered home of the Salvage Sisters.

The menu was modest early on, relying on pizzas, salads and sandwiches, plus a few shareable starters, like oven-roasted clams and mussels in a garlic and pepper-potent broth. Eventually, dinner entrees were introduced. There were, and still are, five items in every category.

Facundo Defraia helms the kitchen, working with one induction burner and two convection ovens. "We try to keep him from getting too artsy," says co-owner Ted Clark, but maybe they should loosen the reins on this flamboyant Argentine chef, whose shock of black hair points defiantly skyward.

There are flickers of excitement in the cooking. Consider "Veal Parmigiana Chile Relleno," one night's special; it was brilliant in a freewheeling way. The breaded veal cutlet tucked into a large ancho pepper stayed crisp even under a blanket of cheese and spicy tomato sauce. Pomegranate seeds and orange slices offered vivid sweet/tart counterpoint.

Carne asada had the same exuberance and deft execution. Deeply embedded with flavor, the tender skirt steak tasted as if it had been marinated in chilies and lime. You can have it in a sandwich at lunch. At dinner it's topped with leeks and sharp, garlicky chimichurri sauce, boosting the flavor quotient even higher.

I thought the mild-mannered Alaskan salmon fillet surrounded by asparagus pretty ho-hum, until I found the smooth black bean purée underneath, erupting with complex heat and spice.

Roasted lamb and chicken "saltimbocca" are tamer still. I was glad the lamb's "mint jus" came on the side; the trio of rosemary-dusted double chops didn't need that bland embellishment.

The fist-sized, oven-roasted chicken breast, smothered in sage-scented mushroom cream sauce, was not the pounded sautéed style typical of saltimbocca, but it was moist and delicious under a mantle of prosciutto and melted Swiss cheese. (Their tiramisu, on the other hand, is a precisely rendered classic.)

Five's pizza crust closely rivals Seattle's Serious Pie. The dough, stretched into a rustic-looking oval, has a touch of olive oil, and bakes up soft but nicely blistered and is beautifully elastic. The Margherita and the sausage-laden "Farm" pizza wear a bright, slightly sweet tomato sauce and a thin layer of cheese. A hearty appetite could demolish a whole one of these, but two could share one with a salad.

I like the elegant simplicity of the "Insalata di Parma" with marcona almonds and parmigiano tucked among lemon-dressed arugula. The contrasting textures of the Sienna salad, with soft mozzarella bocconcini nestled among crisp romaine, fennel and cucumber are alluring, too. But my favorite is the "chop," riddled with salami, basil, provolone and garbanzos and notable for its acid-balanced tarragon vinaigrette.

Five's evolution included the addition of a patio in the back last summer, and a spirits license. The cozy bar now serves cocktails plus beer, wine and espresso.

One of their several specialty drinks is the Sazerac. Impressive, but it's served on the rocks, which suggests there's still a learning curve behind the bar — though not when it comes to tequila. Clark and his business partner, Brad Marshall-Inman, both aficionados, have amassed 70 different kinds.

Clark, the smiling face at the door, is a warm host and an energetic overseer of the dining room. Service is sharper when he's around, customers happier.

Five has matured in many ways. The farmhouse-chic décor feels less farmhouse-y, more chic. Wine bottles rim the banquettes and vintage doodads hang in geometric harmony on the walls. Handsome in the flood of daylight, the raftered room appeals even more in the after-dark glow. Tranquil on weekdays, at night it fills with couples dining tête-à-tête, friendly revelers and lots of families.

It may have been last out of the gate, but Five looks more and more like a winner.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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