Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lunching in a Jewel Box

For me, going out for lunch isn't usually about the food. It's a chance to meet a friend for a nice quiet chat, just the two of us, a time away from work, pets and the demands of family. The other day I got a call from a friend I'd been close to years ago but had drifted away from, the events in our lives pulling us into other relationships and commitments.

Since she works in the Pearl, we opted for a spot across from her office in a funny little building on the corner of 10th and Flanders that houses a café called Isabel. The most striking thing about it are the large glass wall sections that are cantilevered to open out onto the courtyard of the condominiums next door, allowing air to circulate and blurring the distinction between outside and inside.

The food on the lunch menu is fresh and simple, with a combination of comfort, Latin and Asian dishes. In other hands this might be a confusing mish-mash, but chef Isabel Cruz makes each one a distinctive rendering rather than trying to create a fusion of elements.

I chose the BLT, a basic version of the sandwich with thick-sliced fresh bread and decent, if not thrilling, bacon. My friend had the Single Happiness, a plate of brown rice and seasonal vegetables topped with sliced, grilled chicken breast and a peanut sauce. Again, simple and well-prepared and just the right amount for lunch.

It's definitely not the ritzy, expensive type of place with overly executed food that is all too typical in this neighborhood, and Isabel's casual, approachable sensibility makes it a great place to meet friends for a quick bite or a drink. And the building itself is worth experiencing on a sunny day with a breeze coming in those huge open windows.

Details: Isabel, 330 NW 10th Ave. Phone 503-222-4333.

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