15 SW 2nd Ave, 790-9090

Nestled between Burnside and the Shanghai Tunnel on SW 2nd Ave is XV, a brand new, proud (but not pretentious) bar that inspires intimacy with one or many. It's the kind of place where you can learn something new about your best friend. It's lovely, not because it's perfect, but because it gets an A for Effort.

Marc Byrne (former manager for Bruce Carey) and his staff are putting something real into this restaurant. They work hard on the food, which isn't too spendy, and the cocktails are sublime--a genuine taste of the islands. Try the Grand Cayman or sample a Brazilian Caipirinha made from cachaça (sugarcane brandy) and limes.

Marc implements the magic formula in making XV: It's a bar/restaurant (not the other way around) with a distinct identity. The black walls are cave-like, the rooms are lit by oodles of candles, and the bar is separated from the dining room so you can have some distance without losing your edge. This would be the perfect place for a certain glammy Vampire Slayer and her posse, though they might have to put the smackdown on a few well-dressed vamps.

The food is mostly Caribbean, which some would say battles the goth-gone-good vibe. But both food and atmosphere are so confidently executed, you don't question whether they're an appropriate match. There wasn't one thing I tried I didn't like (which is saying something). I was moved by the Vegetarian Spring Rolls, Coconut Onion Rings, Jerked sandwiches, and Beef Picadillo (Sloppy Joe-licious!). Weird-but-good options include the Conch Fritters with spicy papaya sauce and the Curried Goat Stew. In addition to transcendent cocktails and a reasonably priced wine list, beers are both high and low-brow (any bar that serves Pacifico is dreamy).

Although some of the art work didn't send me, and the staff/crowd ratio still needs attention, it doesn't matter. XV does plenty of things right, and the rest is in details that time will take care of. This joint is delish, but what it represents could be even sweeter. Could this mean more Portland bars and restaurants are on the way that can be cheap and classy?