WHILE THE PUNGENT scent of hip pretense can occasionally be whiffed at Queen Anne's new Sapphire restaurant, the food is graceful, honorable, and marked by natural and hearty Mediterranean flavors. We had heard that the portions tended toward the smallish, but found the opposite to be true, with exceedingly ample portions dominating.

Our initial seating-related wrestling match with our hostess rattled us. Although an empty booth was available, we were denied booth-access (with a big smile), because "that wouldn't be fair. Booths are for four people." This odd appeal to our sense of justice temporarily silenced us, but as we were escorted to a dollhouse-sized table, we came upon an adjacent booth holding but two diners. Again, we pled our case, and were met with another stifFLy smiling rebuff. Realizing that we just couldn't fit our ample asses at this teensy table, we raised the stakes by stating our intent to leave. Our escort reluctantly acquiesced. Slightly shaken by this encounter, we feared an "Assholes-in-Booth-1" all-points-bulletin and ensuing shitty service.

And damned if we weren't totally wrong, as it was smooth sailing, baby, from there on out.

We led off with the Chef's Platter ($9), billed as "a daily selection of little bites, antipasti, and salads." Each of the 10 items in this mammoth trough is FLawless: Unadorned cauliFLower FLorets are lightly steamed, providing a modest counterpoint to the more heavily FLavored platter-mates, while snappy asparagus, toasted pecans, and thin slices of Granny Smith apples provide crunch. Boiled-then-sautéed purple Finn potatoes (with accompanying boiled parsnips) and tangy golden beets counter with their more pungent marinades, and a small pile of marinated ahi, red pepper, and celery build a bridge from the crunchy and full-bodied vegetables to the softer baba ghanoush and little balls of fresh mozzarella. Squiring all of this loveliness is a heavily seeded, house-baked challah bread, thanks to the chef, renowned baker Leonard Ruiz Redé.

The Chef's Platter, with its winning mix-and-match equivalent of the "Units" clothing trend of the late '80s, turns even the most modest diner into a master snack-maker. With "Units," clothing items were designed to all go together, supposedly allowing the customer to put together any combination and come out looking like a champ. Redé succeeds in putting together such a concept with this platter. Each of the items complement the rest, and whether you place a pecan and a piece of mozzarella on the bread, or dip the asparagus in the baba ghanoush, only satisfaction lies ahead.

With all its glitter, the platter had slightly numbed us, and the relaxed grace of the food to follow was a relief. The Sapphire Salad ($6.00), built around rich yet mellow Spanish manchego cheese and mesclun greens, calmed us with its modest balancing act. The mesclun, a simple mix of young and small greens, features silver-dollar-sized hunks of purple radicchio, coated lightly in a tangy citrus vinaigrette.

Fedelini is a thin spaghetti (in Italian, fedelini means "faithful little ones"), and Sapphire's version ($10) is faithful indeed, in its preparation and service as a reliable bed for thin-sliced strips of delicata squash and small strips of Granny Smith apples, tossed in brown butter and served with thin and crispy twigs of deep-fried onions. While not mentioned on the menu, the dish also features thin shavings of a mellow white cheese, culminating in a sagey blend with a soft, appealingly pliable consistency. The Oregon Lamb ($16) is prepared in the Moroccan stew-style called tagine and served over the higher-starch Arborio Italian rice, usually found in risotto dishes because of the resulting creamy texture. The deep red stew melds seamlessly with the rice, and the fennel, ginger, apricot, and preserved lemon add aggressive FLavors without overwhelming the smoky lamb FLavor.

The lamb and fedelini entrées clearly delineate Sapphire's promise. Chef Redé's smartly executed "Mediterranean plus fresh Northwest" game plan seems so logical and so full of common sense that eating such food would be a pleasure whether sitting in a booth, at a tiny table, or outside in the middle of Queen Anne Avenue.

Sapphire, 625 Queen Anne Ave N, 281-1931. Daily: 5:30 pm-1 am. Full bar. $$.

"Where to Eat" Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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