A young chef gets his hands on a great kitchen.


414 E. Pine, 325-2149 dinner every night IF YOU GO TO the Capitol Club a lot and you like it just fine, fine. Most everything you remember hasn't changed. You still can't gesture without knocking into a candle. You still have to ascend a dark, treacherously steep staircase to get to the bar. You still sense more than a hint of the Moroccan in the moldings and turret-shaped insets, in the light-scattering metal lanterns, in the pillows along the walls. And the upstairs lounge is still always crowded with a mix of Hill hipsters and Eastside expats. These days, they're downing pricey cocktails that include, perhaps, the best new thing in the city to get drunk on—the Casbah ($8). It's Absolut Citron, pomegranate juice, Cointreau, drops of orange. Think sidecar with a squeeze of blood—deceptive, deadly. Other house cocktails are elegantly garnished: a sage leaf floating in the green lantern ($8); three sunken blueberries sound asleep in the blue sapphire ($8). Don't be fooled by the blue sapphire's cerulean, soporific allure; this shit could power a plane. Of course, there's a difference between people who go to the Capitol Club and people who eat there—between the people who go directly upstairs and the people who head for the dim, sexy dining room. The latter should take note: Kevin Ruff, formerly the sous chef and, before that, a line cook, is now in charge of the kitchen. At 26, Ruff is the kind of guy you'd never expect to be in charge—someone less passionate about chefdom than, well, snowboarding. Most of his kitchen experience was gained in restaurants at a ski resort in California. "I got that job basically to pay for my snowboarding, you know?" he says. "That's all I cared about was snowboarding. After a while I figured— aha!--I guess snowboarding doesn't pay the bills." RUFF SAYS HE'S been to the slopes only twice this year. He's been busy, primarily with making a handful of menu adjustments—changes that evidence broader regional influences, as one waiter put it. But Ruff doesn't foresee any major overhaul. "We're always going to have the hummus, for example," he says, "because we were built on that." Red bell pepper hummus, to be exact—starchy, smooth, what you'd expect—which seems clearly meant to counter the cocktails: It's a plate to share; it belongs in the lounge. A better starter for a real dinner is the warmed drunken goat cheese and black olive tapanade plate ($8), which comes with warm crostini and, as a pleasant surprise, a dollop of quince paste—pleasant because it counters the sharpness of the cheese and the olives, surprising because the menu makes no mention of it. But the more complex and daring darling of the appetizers is the sweet onion and blue cheese tart ($6), a cheesy, sweet, tasty pastry, served over a refreshing array of herb leaves: fennel top, mint, and sage. Steer away from the smoked salmon p⴩ ($8)—it's subtle at best, topped with a glob of dill cr譥 frae that renders it almost tastelessly creamy, and it's served with the same rustic rosemary shingle crackers that already come compliments of the house. Greenswise, if you don't mind finishing what your wool sweater started, try the salad topped with marinated loin of lamb ($7). It sounds weird—salty, tender, thinly sliced sheep lain over balsamic-dressed baby spinach and figs—but this is a standout. (So why the diminutive plate?) The more conservative will be happy with the quite nice arugula ($6), prepared with fleshy chunks of blood oranges and manchego cheese. Ruff certainly brings confidence and creativity to the kitchen, which account for the success of the salads and smaller dishes, but a little work remains to be done on the accompaniments to his entr饳. The porcini-crusted ahi tuna ($18) is expertly cooked—a dark, musky outside, a perfectly rare center—but the potatoes that come with it seem neglected (chives and corn add color, but no flavor). The pork chop ($16) with smoked green apple relish and black lentils is similarly spectacular; the pork tastes great with the lentils, and the pork tastes great with the apples. But the pork would taste great with wood chips—that's how good the pork is. The lentils need flavor of their own. The filet mignon ($20), however, is flawless, although contrary to the menu ("petite filet mignon with braised winter greens and cumin potatoes") the meat is actually wrapped in smoky bacon and topped with melting chunks of blue cheese. Change the wording on the menu, and more people will order this. A simple, tasty orange blossom cr譥 brl饠($4.50) makes a fine dessert; novelty seekers will be delighted by the rum-banana flamb頷ith ice cream ($6) because it's on fire, but the fire intensifies the rum flavor so much that the bananas, already soaked, are hard to enjoy. Still, it's nice to see a good place taking risks, and it's a special relief to see a guy like Ruff in charge—good at what he does, honest about his interests, not concerned with any image bullshit. "I just try to maintain what I've always been doing," he says modestly about his new role. He adjusts his baseball cap. "But yeah, it still feels a little funny."

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