Bizzarro Italian Cafe
1307 N 46th St; 545-7327. Open Mon-Sun, 5-10 pm. $$

This cafe seats 40 or so people at small tables beneath an oppressive avalanche of decorative junk. It offers a mish-mash of Italian foods--lasagna, puttanesca, osso buco, marinara this and marinara that--loosely thrown together from all the cuisines of Italy. Bizzarro is no ideologically driven project: they take the simplest pleasures of Italian food and present them in whatever combinations might please the palate and imagination of the chef. The rigatoni margherita was disappointing, the pasta itself as firm and buoyant as a high-priced summer air mattress, rather clotted with cheese and then tossed in a blend of the ubiquitous marinara with chunks of tomato and a great handful of oregano. This shotgun marriage of what was essentially pizza topping and pasta seemed to be the culinary equivalent of the restaurant's decor: throw in a handful of everything and some part is bound to prove interesting. MATTHEW STADLER (5/27)

2107 Third Ave, 728-4220. Open Mon-Sat 5 pm-2 am. Closed Sundays. $$$

Brasa is the latest in a troupe of upscale eateries sprouting up around Belltown. Their fare changes daily, and is accommodating enough for vegetarians but decidedly carnivorous in a splashy sense, with forays into venison and wild game. We started with an appetizer of pan-fried calamari which, while palatable, was neither outstanding nor unusual. For dinner, my host ordered the roast suckling pig, while I settled for the less-than-exotic lamb chops. Both were on the bland side--not bland enough to complain about, but rather, just a foiled intrigue. RIZ ROLLINS (4/28)

2421 First Ave, 441-1677. Open daily 5-11 pm (Fri & Sat till 12 mid); Sat & Sun brunch 9 am-2 pm. $$

On the bedrock of excellent food and moderate prices, owners Gina Kaukola and John Hawkley have built an ineffable, truly special dining experience. Many new menu items sound promising (root vegetable gratin, lamb souvlaki, grilled vegetable terrine), but old Cyclops standbys aren't ignored: notably trout, coated in cornmeal and studded with sunflamesower seeds; and chicken cha-cha, featuring an artistically angle-sliced chicken breast kissed with rum and o.j.-sweetened coconut curry sauce. Interesting art and music fill both the dining area and the attractive full bar, and the open, spaciou feel is as warm and welcoming as the staff. JIM ANDERSON (4/15)

615 19th Ave E, 325-2111. Open for lunch Tues-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm, brunch Sat & Sun 10 am-2 pm; dinner Tues-Sun 5-10 pm. Closed Mondays. $$

Everything about Monsoon is gorgeously restrained. Mom's tomato tofu is a perfectly humble dish, with the delicate flamesavor of fried tofu befriended by a warm tomato sauce (perfect for the young or spice-shy). The seafood chow mein is pleasingly basic, with the simple but robust flamesavors of fresh broccoli, snow peas, straw mushrooms, shrimp, and ginger. More complex is the wok-fried lemongrass chicken, which came swimming in a sea of pungent spice, infused with a smoky tang and a hint of sweet vinegar. But for a meal which will slap your face and tell you to shape up, pick any one of Monsoon's "Signature" dishes: green tea-baked salmon in banana leaf, or seared Chilean sea bass with fresh herbs and chili pepper. JAMIE HOOK (4/1)

2366 Eastlake Ave E, 324-3160. Open daily 5:30 pm-12 mid (Fri & Sat till 2 am). $

The soul of this intimate Eastlake eatery is its dazzling selection of tapas. We started with the setas combo, which included sautéed and grilled shiitake and portabello mushrooms, heavily laden with olive oil and garlic. This dish boldly heralded Pomodoro's well-crafted three-point game plan: First, select fresh local vegetables, seafoods, and meats. Second, grill, sauté, or broil them with an aggressive (yet not spicy) amalgam of olive oil, garlic, and paprika. Third, serve it up hot. The portions at Pomodoro are by no means gluttonous, but are certainly ample, with two orders creating a solid foundation for a meal. JA (5/6)

Willie's Taste of Soul Bar-B-Que and Custom Smoke House
6305 Beacon Ave S, 722-3229. Open Mon-Thurs 11 am-8 pm (Fri-Sat 11 am-9 pm). Closed Sundays. $

This clean and smartly appointed little establishment features state-of-the-art Bar-B-Que, with people-pleasing portions and personal attention from Willie himself. Nestled on the corner of Beacon and Graham, Willie's is just a stone's throw from I-5. With the authentic food and surrounding lush Beacon Hill greenery, you may think you've just pulled off the freeway in Louisiana. When Willie asks if you'd like hot or mild, you'd best beware: the hot BBQ sauce is the real deal. I ordered the chicken dinner, and when Willie brought me my large platter of shining chicken breast meat, I knew I was about to have my butt kicked by quality. From the first forkful to the last, the succulence factor remained above reproach. JA (5/20)