2229 SE Hawthorne 239-4002

With plate glass windows looking out onto a semi-quiet stretch of Hawthorne, a sturdy, bordello-style bar, and a couple of pool tables, Imbibe manages to be both urbane and quaint. But with a TV playing sports and a background soundtrack of Dave Matthews, Paul Simon, and other songs lifted from KINK 102's playlist, the scene is only vaguely more unique and hip than a TGI Fridays.

Imbibe's mussels were the first dish to arrive, and by far the best. Swimming in a steaming bath of spiced coconut milk, they were plump, succulent, and fresh. A huge fan of these meaty bivalves, I have sampled them at dozens of restaurants around the city, including most of the highly lauded and expensive venues. The mussels at Imbibe are as good, if not better, than any others I have eaten in Portland.

The cook didn't skimp on the number of shells that he threw into the pot, either. There may actually have been too many; I polished them off more out of a deep-seated Germanic obligation to finish what I've started than a continuing hunger; and trust me, I'm a hungry guy. A dozen or so slices of delicious sourdough bread also generously circled the deep pot, and even though I wanted to mop up all the steamed coconut milk sauce, I simply could not continue if I had any hope of eating the rest of my dinner.

In fact, everything about the dishes at Imbibe is generous--perhaps too generous. Piled atop my grilled chicken sandwich were ribbons and ribbons of sliced ham. Held together by two slices of thick foccacia bread, the mile-high sandwich was like a Santa Fe bistro version of Dagwood, but frustratingly it was so big I could barely fit it into my mouth. To eat it safely I would've needed to unlock my jaw like a snake swallowing a rat--and I have a big mouth.

We ordered several dishes, which varied from pretty good to bland and unmemorable. The breaded salmon was just that--breaded salmon. The daily "savory tart" was a tasty Shiitake mushroom quiche. An off-the-menu shredded chicken taco was offered, and was boring enough that I had one bite and then forgot to eat the rest.

The restaurant's wait staff was friendly, but the kitchen was too under-prepared to push Imbibe into the realm of fine dining. We wanted to order wontons, allegedly one of their more popular dishes, but were told they were not available that night. My meal came without the promised fried potatoes because the fryer was broken. At first I was told that the fries would come late and then, once I was nearly finished with my super-sized sandwich, that they wouldn't arrive at all. While I understand that new restaurants need to work out kinks, I was surprised the waitress didn't offer to knock a buck off the bill.

Given the choice between Imbibe and TGI Fridays, I wouldn't hesitate to patronize the locally owned restaurant, even though next time I may only order the mussels, drinksÉ and earplugs.