TJ Bistro

1538 NE Alberta, 335-2050

I don't know for sure, but I conjecture that the owners of TJ Bistro have not owned a restaurant before. I'd also guess that they don't have a chef who has studied cooking much, or rather, that they don't have a chef at all. This new Alberta bistro is entirely confusing, from the clash of its fancy restaurant façade, to its casual wooden tables, to its menu; with items like Chicken Marsala (the traditional wine and mushroom sauce made with CREAM), shrimp, spinach, and feta crepes (made with tiny frozen bay shrimp), bland pasta dishes, an untossed spinach salad, and a club sandwich. They call their food casual Italian, but what this means is Italian food that hasn't been thought through, plus some other stuff. I feel bad panning this place because it's new and perhaps hasn't worked out the kinks, but after eating there once I would decidedly not return. Judging from their Friday night crowd (three tables at 8 pm), it seems like the Alberta set has already tasted TJs for themselves; so the restaurant better turn things around. QUICK. KS

Abol Café

923L NE Broadway, 281-7961

Lost among three other worthy Ethiopian restaurants in the Lloyd District, the tiny Abol Café is a worthy competitor. The food here is subtle, with a building heat that is satisfying and exotic. I was served bite-sized pieces of lamb in rich, dark red gravy that grew on me with each bite. Initially found it too tough, but this is people's food, not haute cuisine. Its virtues more than overcame its deficiencies. The vegetarian selection was pureed legumes, silky and rich with garlic; the flavor like nothing else I'd previously encountered. We lopped it all up on the never-ending supply of Ingera while watching CNN on the 19-inch protruding from the cinderblock walls. If you're an adventurous eater, call ahead to be sure they're ready for you, and prepare to be mentally airlifted from the Lloyd Center to the African Continent. PL