I have a few theories about drinking.

Beer is for refreshment. It is never a good idea to fill one's belly with 64 ounces of carbonated anything. Wine is for eating alongside. As anyone who has fallen prey to red wine's charms knows, wine is not for drinking all night. It will produce several undesirable side effects, such as falling asleep at 8:00 p.m., severe sugary-hangover headache, or vomiting. Spirits are for tippling. Tippling is a complicated procedure: Cocktails work symbiotically with mood lighting and appropriately sexy music. Who can really enjoy a cocktail in a brightly lit crowd reminiscent of a rush-hour Tokyo train? When I lay down six bucks for a beverage, I want to enjoy every penny of that gin and juice. There are very few restaurants where I can really enjoy a drink--if it is too mellow, I fall asleep from boredom; too loud, and I long to sit on a park bench and sip something wrapped in a brown paper bag.

The folks who used to run Bistro Lautrec (R.I.P.), a swell, kinda Frenchy joint on the Hill, designed their latest endeavor, ·ing, with both drinkers and diners in mind. The open, simple space looks best at night when the room's airiness fades into dark depths and the vermilion walls radiate warmth. In the corner, two slender white pillars lean like alders toward the light, lending a gentle lushness to the space. The understated décor renders a very comfortable, dimmed expanse.

On weekend nights at ·ing, folks group around the glowing bar, like moths to the light of bartender Joe's superbly mixed cocktails--cocktails that deserve mention, such as the perfect gimlet I sampled, made with real, fresh-squeezed lime juice and confectioner's sugar, not Rose's sickly lime syrup. In dim corners, mushy handholding-type dates occurred very discreetly. I myself was there to meet friends before imbibing a punishing evening of karaoke.

When pressed to describe the crowd at ·ing, "medium Capitol Hill" and "basic Seattle" come to mind. One fellow complained that there was no one "hot" for him to check out, but I must admit to being preoccupied with the array of dishes we ordered off the small but packed menu (served until 11:00 p.m.). After my first bite of the crab cakes ($12) in lemon beurre blanc (praise be for butter!), I got all nostalgic about Bistro Lautrec--that's how good those crab cakes were: moist, tender, yet oh so crabby and light on mayo. On the other end of the taste-bud spectrum, I found the steak fries ($3) reminiscent of Denny's; which is not to say they were bad, they just weren't made in-house, if you know what I mean. Mediocre fries are better than no fries.

Of all the entrées we consumed, I was least thrilled with the lackluster pan-fried oysters ($12) that supposedly came with "coleslaw"--the sparse clipping was more like a garnish, and the red-pepper aioli said "Hmm" under those soggy, unexciting oysters. Happily, all memories of sad oysters were eradicated by the New York strip pepper steak ($17), doused with a brandy demi-glace that worked more like a gravy--a very, very excellent gravy, mind you--served atop some of the best mashed potatoes available in the world, and nicely steamed baby bok choy.

But what I will be returning to ·ing for is the jaw-dropping brined pork chop ($12). Unbelievably flavorful and fork-tender, our table wound up covertly passing around the bone to gnaw off every last morsel of pork. This heavenly creature comes with nice, simple mac & cheese and buttery-licious corn, just like it should. In that same pork-with-corn-and-mac-&-cheese way, ·ing is dining and drinking, just like it should be.

This very welcome addition to the Pike/Pine 'hood, while not obsessively focused on food, steps up to the higher calling of a drinking establishment serving food I'd want to eat sober.

·ing

1530 Bellevue Ave (Capitol Hill), 329-5388. Tues-Sat 4 pm-2 am. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-$20; $$$ = $20 and up.

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