Paul's Place has got to be one of the weirdest places ever. Located on possibly the weirdest mixed-use block in the already unanimously weird University District, Paul's Place is one of those restaurants-in-a-house, snuggled up against the looming, cinderblock-built University Inn.

The unchanged-since-the-early-'80s mauve living room is transcended by the substantially delicious dinner. Dining in such anti-aesthetic environs may provoke some people, but I found it rather comforting, a refreshing change from the irritable bowel syndrome I get from joints afflicted by über-slick and/or "funky" styling that probably accounts for half the price of their entrées.

Maybe I'm getting carried away. Paul's Place teeters between worlds. It's among the last of the neighborhood old guard, and most of its patrons seem to be University die-hards--earnest, bespectacled, professorial, early-evening modest drinkers of moderate wine. The owners have wisely chosen to keep things simple, make the meals themselves, and focus on the food--a solid Northwest brand of Italian/French cuisine--not the flash.

My date and I immensely enjoyed selections from the extremely affordable wine list accompanied by an appetizer special of spinach gnocchi and smoked salmon in a light white wine cream sauce ($8.95). While I rocketed to the top-priced item on the specials sheet and chose a not-quite-medium-rare rack of lamb ($19.95) served in a yummy brandy sauce with roasted new potatoes and barely steamed kale, my date was hell-bent on ordering, as he put it, "the weirdest thing on the menu": chicken breast with Brie over fettuccine ($11.95). It was--although a generous portion with toothsome house-made noodles--uh, weird. The large chunks of broccoli and Brie and flesh never really melded or did anything remarkable, reminding me of my own infamous clean-out-the-fridge cuisine. But let me clarify that this man once ordered liver and onions at Sorry Charlie's, so blame his masochistic culinary leanings rather than Paul's Place.

This is comfortable, affordable, and far-above-average food built from scratch. I understand why regulars are so loyal, and can safely say that there is nothing quite like Paul's Place anywhere in the city, twinkling its muted multicolored porch lights with the same warmth it has for over 20 years. On a block of unloved porches with exploding sofas and crabby cats, it glows with light.

Paul's Place

4741 12th Ave NE, 523-9812. Lunch Tues-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm; dinner Tues-Thurs 5:30-9 pm and Fri-Sat 5:30-10 pm; Sat-Sun 8 am--2 pm.

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