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Frenetic Cal-Castro Cuisine

The Castro isn't known for subtlety, and so it goes with Frisée, a relative newcomer to the space just below The Café. The focus on healthy California eating is most evident in the lunch menu, which is packed with salads.

The decor strives for mod sophistication, but ends up closer to frozen yogurt-shop chic. Walls and ceilings are finished in rippled white paneling or, in parts, padded with red faux-suede cushions. The bar is adorned with colorful geometric shapes. A cramped mezzanine provides more tables and a viewing spot for garish art. Everywhere you look there's movement, pizzazz -- after a few minutes, your eyes need a rest.

The food is decent, but nearly everything we tried was buried under piles of extraneous flavor. Like the men at the table next to us -- eyebrows plucked to thin arches, hair frosted and sculpted, faces and bodies tightened and bronzed -- the chef doesn't seem to know when to say when.

Take, for example, the crab cake. I'm sure there was crab in there, but it was completely camouflaged with mayonnaise, thick breading, a tart apple garnish, and a salad overdressed with overbold sesame dressing.

The theme continued with nearly every dish we tried. With the exception of the halibut ($19), which was nicely cooked, tender, and stood up just fine to its intensely lemony sauce, flavors are prohibited from speaking for themselves. A filet mignon ($22) had so much rub on it that it screamed in our mouths. Tuna tartare ($13) suffered from an elaborately layered presentation that distracted from the main act. Each sip of wine -- a Spanish merlot cabernet blend that our waiter highly recommended -- felt like a jammy, vanilla slap on the tongue.

Lunch, with a varied offering of sandwiches and salads, is somewhat more subdued. The Nicoise Salad ($12), which should be rustic and hearty, is here made precious and frilly with odd accents like toast points, each dotted with a spot of salad dressing.

Perhaps the food is an ideal pairing to the neighborhood's nightclubs: The senses are stimulated, but the volume is never turned down. You can do much worse dining in the Castro, but you can also do much better.

Healthy California