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Starstruck

North Star Restaurant puts a twinkle in our eyes

"I just love this place," my dinner companion said to me with stars in her eyes. Looking at the soft, buttercream-colored walls, the "homemade" quilted ceiling hangings, the gorgeously clean bouquet of orange flowers at the reception table and the simple, elegant table décor, I had to agree. I, too, just love the North Star Restaurant. While I would recommend North Star for its food, décor and service alone, the restaurant's versatility makes it one of my favorite places to bring guests. The atmosphere is perfect for romantic dinners, pleasant evenings with a small group of friends, and soft-sell business dinners.

Graceful interior touches include richly hued velvet drapes framing the view of 18th and Connecticut, an assortment of soft throw pillows scattered along the banquettes lining the restaurant walls, and the bathroom… Not satisfied with making the bathroom merely clean, comfortable and attractive, the restaurant owners went wild, adding rustic urban touches, such as fresh rose petals strewn about the floor and stacks of clean, fresh hand towels tied with twine. The service echoes this simple-yet-elegant sentiment; while my brunch waiter seemed a little distracted, every other staff member I encountered on my multiple visits was straightforward, polite and attentive-without being at all effusive or cutesy.

If all of this sounds wonderfully unpretentious, you're thinking along the right lines; "unpretentious" is really the best word to describe North Star. Owned by the same folks who've given us Firefly, North Star delivers all the same perks as its parent restaurant, including consistently delicious food. Local residents, digerati and design folks seem to enjoy the generous salads and interesting sandwiches for lunch. My favorite was the Tombo Tuna Salad Sandwich, which was creamy, fresh and perfectly textured. We also enjoyed the French Onion Soup Gratinee and the Sake Salad, which combined spinach, field greens and North Star's stellar salmon. Brunch was also tasty, if less inspiring. My Victorious Scramble sounded great-who could go wrong with leeks, thyme and goat cheese?-but proved to be rather dry and tasteless. I spent the whole meal envying my dining companion's selection, the Chilaquiles scramble. A generous platter of eggs scrambled with chorizo and Monterey Jack paired with black beans, corn chips and Salsa Fresca, the Chilaquiles scramble was spicy, interesting, and completely satisfying.

But while lunch and brunch offer agreeable fare, neither is really special enough to make North Star a "destination restaurant." Dinner is. I get mooney just thinking of the tangy, decidedly non-fishy Sesame Glazed Grilled Salmon with roasted yams and garlicky gai-lan. No other fish dish can compare. Vegetarians should be especially fond of North Star: I've never seen less than two veggie options on the menu, both of which are usually innovative and hearty. Current offerings include a tagine of Middle Eastern vegetables and cous cous and a grilled veggie lasagna. I honestly miss the grilled pumpkin steak offered last fall; one of the most interesting vegetarian dishes I've encountered, the thick steak, resting in a bed of spicy black beans and sour cream sauce, made quite a substantial meal. Other past non-vegetarian favorites have included a hearty portion of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and steamed greens, and a "Thanksgiving" turkey platter that was fresh, juicy, and delicious. Both dishes were American food at its best, with small touches that lent a more nontraditional flavor to the experience, echoing the restaurant's self-styled claim of offering "homestyle cooking with no ethnic boundaries."

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