524 NW 14th, 916-0099

It is possible for a restaurant to have a soul that doesn't disappear in spite of a major facelift? A year ago, Holden's was a dumpy sandwich shop. In early September, it transformed into a tasteful Pearl District restaurant that, even with your depressed stock portfolio, you can actually still afford.

The classy overhaul has masked Holden's lowbrow past: Muted lights, a sleek bar, and slick-looking waiters juxtapose well against the bare wood beams that crisscross a lofty ceiling.

But with what really matters--the food and service--Holden's has cleverly jumped more than a few echelons without turning pretentious. Among the appetizers is a tasty duck quesadilla. More substantive and less greasy than chicken or plain cheese, the quarter-inch slices of duck clearly upgrade the familiar dish.

Most of the dinners are like the quesadilla--familiar entry-level fare with a sly twist. It must have been tempting for Holden's to blindly follow the trend of over-stylized dishes, tossing in mango chutneys and oven-dried tomato spreads, but their restraint is appreciated. The blackened salmon is simple, juicy, and fresh--managing to retain the richness of the salmon while cooking out the fishiness. At only ten dollars and some change, the quality is remarkably high.

Also on the menu are a variety of skewers, from a fragrant peanut sauce chicken to an incredibly well cooked squid. The peanut sauce avoids the trappings of excessive spiciness and instead gains an admirable heaviness which flirts with gourmet peanut butter. (Surprisingly, the easy stuff--the side dish grits--were bland as cardboard.)

In the spectrum of restaurants, there is a disconnect between the after-work casual and hip, fine dining. Subdued but classy, and quality food without being hoity-toity, Holden's fits comfortably into the medium brow (with taste) niche. PHIL BUSSE