Lately, I've been devising creative projects for Seattle's teeming population of dot-com layoffs. My friend Mr. T, as his ex-coworkers affectionately refer to him, has been unlearning his old habit of working 70-hour weeks by packing my lunch, babysitting, and picking me up and driving me around after I've had too much to drink. When I asked him to accompany me to West Seattle's Saffron Cow, he could not come up with an excuse. "I've got the time," he sighed.

One very long car ride with a screaming toddler later, we pulled up to the Saffron Cow's old grocery storefront. Mr. T leaped from the barely stopped car and lit a cigarette mid-air before his feet touched the pavement. We were greeted by a large fountain, trickling gently. What used to be a Lotto-and-beer mart has been lovingly transformed into what the restaurant/deli's literature refers to as a "European world market"--really just pretty foodstuffs displayed on massive, rustic (read: splintery) shelves.

Alongside this "world market," the Saffron Cow provides a large, comfortable, and informal space for a range of neighborhood needs. Huge, cushy couches and lounge chairs are in constant use by coffee sippers and newspaper scanners. Appropriately close to the pastry case, which features a number of extremely serviceable desserts such as the Chocolate Mousse Cake ($3.95) and manageably sized scones ($2), the coffee-shop aspect of the Cow provides a nice distraction while waiting for the Vashon ferry. Before 3:30 p.m., folks are free to roam about, eating at the communal tables on cutesy Mexican shopping bags as place mats, or at dining-area tables made from old doors and plastered with Indian produce labels emblazoned with the brand Saffron Cow. Beverages abound in the market section, as well as fresh berries, asparagus, and other seasonal treats. Besides coffee and pastries, the deli offers a daily curry with rice ($6.95), sundry salads (priced per pound), and a selection of deli sandwiches (around $5.75).

Mr. T, not surprisingly, ordered the grilled Beefy Blake sandwich, which he tucked away with astonishment. How can one go wrong with roast beef, brie, grilled onions, and fresh horseradish aioli? Even the pickle was above standard. Mr. T also enjoyed his curry-quinoa soup ($1.99), which was satisfying, in a homey way. My cream of mushroom soup featured an array of mushrooms in a bouncy-tasting cream base. The Envy of Endolyne sandwich ($5.75) did not contain any of the promised endive, but was stuffed with fancy greens, avocado, sweet peppers, and plenty of roasted chicken, brightened by sweet, peppery mayonnaise.

Dinner at the Saffron Cow is a different matter. The small but scattered menu has the intelligence to focus each dish on a region. For instance, the Jamaican jerk chicken ($15.95) was really jerk, no funny business--red hot, spicy, and sweet--and came with the appropriate fresh mangos, fried plantains, and rice and peas. Mr. T's handmade ravioli ($15.99), stuffed with gorgonzola and walnuts, and sweetened by a touch of tomato and slivers of basil and peppers, stayed fairly true to the Northern Italian cuisine it hailed from. At a neighboring table, a miniature, ancient German couple in matching jackets seemed to truly enjoy the Madras Curry ($9.99) and pappadams. A couple of healthy-living types were able to navigate their way through dinner with a vegan vegetable couscous stew ($3.99) that Mr. T also ordered and couldn't complain about, and a weirdly textured dinner salad ($5)--a little mushy with a bland chutney dressing and slices of zucchini.

Providing seven dishes from vastly different cuisines is an interesting and difficult feat, but it does not entirely succeed at the Saffron Cow. I do admire the no-nonsense approach to complementing foods and flavors, a noble reaction to the bizarre mess of garnishes and frills so many nouveau-cuisine joints are mucking about in currently. The most faltering aspect of dinner, however, was the service. Our confused and unintuitive waiter seemed as perplexed as we were about the mixed-use space, and I balked at the $15 price tag on dinner served so awkwardly.

Saffron Cow

9261 45th Ave SW, 923-1729. Open daily 8 am-9 pm. $$

Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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