When I used to wait tables for a living, my industry friends and I would fantasize about opening our own restaurant. We'd make business plans and come up with dinner specials, and of course we always disagreed about everything. A couple of line-cook buddies, fresh out of the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not that CIA), proposed ambitious food with classic French preparations. But I wanted the kind of neighborhood place you go to without thinking, when you don't know what you're in the mood for but you just want something "good."

Firefly owners Craig Kolbitz and Ellen Brown share my vision. Their Queen Anne restaurant offers an unpretentious menu of eclectic American comfort food, with Northwest favorites such as the ubiquitous seared ahi tuna with Asian vegetables and a ginger-soy sauce ($17.50). The hearty pizzas on Firefly's menu and the small bar with ESPN on the TV let you know you can relax here. But the tasteful Ethan Allenish décor and immaculate wooden tables firmly remind you that you are in Queen Anne, home of upper-middle-class couples and ladies in pressed slacks with strollers and Kate Spade totes.

Kolbitz and Brown have clearly done their homework. It's interesting to see such a specific neighborhood reflected in an equally specific menu--a menu where it is entirely appropriate to find goat cheese and good olive oil on your pizza or toasted hazelnuts in your salad. You can stick to onion soup ($3.50/$5.25) and a lemon-herb roasted half chicken ($12.95, with vegetables and mashed potatoes, a recurring side on Firefly's menu), or you can splurge on the crab ravioli appetizer special ($9.95) with ponzu sauce, followed by a hefty rib eye steak ($18.95).

Sometimes I find this kind of elevated comfort food annoying. I am often reluctant to give pizza the kind of status and flourish normally reserved for fine dining. Mac 'n' cheese with schmancy Vermont cheddar or BLTs with aioli on designer breads like brioche have been promoted to haute comfort, and this can be dangerous: I don't want to start mistaking high-end for quality. And yet, Firefly usually manages to pull off this sort of designer Sunday-dinner fare.

For example, the avocado-cilantro quesadilla ($6.95) gave a welcome lift to humbler versions of the Mexican snack. Components remained the same--melted cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream--but cilantro pesto and generous avocado slices gave it delicious complexity and creamy texture. Dungeness crab and corn cakes ($9.50) on a jicama-radish salad were less innovative; the salad was a crisp foundation, but those crab cakes were unremarkable and tasted too strongly of frying oil.

On my first visit, the asparagus and tuna niçoise salad ($10.50) made me sad--perfectly blanched asparagus and tasty olives, but with a tiny portion of dry, way-overcooked tuna that resembled chicken (the menu claims it's seared rare). On a return visit, however, I was placated by a much more ample serving of tuna, fanned across mixed greens, glistening and pink. My lamb loin chops ($16.50) were fabulous, flawlessly seasoned and oven-fired with simple ratatouille (although I couldn't find the mint pesto it was supposedly served with), and Firefly's clam linguine ($14.95) is some of the best I've ever had, a brilliantly uncomplicated bowl of noodles, garlic, lemon, white wine, tomatoes, chili flakes, and tender, flavorful Manila clams.

I loved seeing pork schnitzel on the menu ($13.50), and I loved that it was done right: pounded thin, lightly breaded but not greasy, covered with mushroom gravy. But my Firefly Burger ($8.95), although medium-rare as requested (HALLELUJAH!), was disappointing. It was--you guessed it--on a brioche bun, which is not the best bread to soak up grease, and the crumbled blue cheese refused to melt, which made my experience un-burgery.

And for a nine-dollar burger, I really, really wanted fries--but I got chips and coleslaw. Sigh. I suppose the lesson in all this is to go to Firefly when you're craving "eclectic," and stick to Red Mill when you want a "burger." And be cautious of brioche bread at all times.


2128 Queen Anne Ave N, 694-0055.

Open daily 11 am-11 pm.