For most of us who work downtown, "lunch" means a bowl of pho (or microwave ramen) consumed in haste at our desks. But even slaves to duty, on business or for mere escape, need to "take a lunch" from time to time. For such purposes, a gem of a lunch spot has recently emerged in the heart of downtown: quiet, cheerful, elegant, and, unbelievably, not that pricey. The place is Troiani, at Third and Madison, and though the Mackay Restaurant Group and manager Rich Troiani designed the place as an elegant Italian grill for fine evening dining, I'm not sure it doesn't work even better in the daytime; certainly better for a lunch where you actually expect to get something done than the upholstered caves where the expense-account crowd foregathers. The menu, which changes twice a month or so, is short and to the point: Currently the antipasti are three light seafood gems (grilled calamari with avocado and mint, grilled prawns with lemon and paprika, and crab cakes Romanesco, all in the $10 to $12 bracket). There's always at least one protein-centered main-dish salad (right now roast chicken, $12, and Gorgonzola-laced steak, $16); more traditional entrées, $12 to $17, include the house pancetta-and-pea pasta (a sort of lightened-up Alfredo), fennel-roasted wild salmon, and the signature chicken al mattone (roasted under a brick) with a side of fabulous soft polenta. And if you don't actually have to go back to work, the desserts ($8 to $10) will bring you over the brink of stunned satiety. 1001 Third, 206-624-4060. DOWNTOWN

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