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Published: Friday, 10/27/2000

Georgio's Cafe International: Downtown cafe among the best

Since expanding into a large dining room next door and relocating the restrooms 10 years ago, Georgio's has changed inside very little, and regulars find the original dining room - long, narrow, black and white with festive lights - comfortably familiar. What does change is a long list of specials, depending on what chef Georgio Kamilaris has found attractive in the markets on any given day. As a rule, they're mostly seafood, six or seven choices, fresh-water and salt alike, and all complemented with just the right sauces, never trite, never ordinary.

Opting for one of Georgio's appetizers is more than just the start of a gustatory adventure. No matter what you envision, it will be delightfully lifted a step or two above your fondest anticipation. Wild mushrooms at this time of year, sauteed in heavy cream with garlic, seem conventional; a pinch of cayenne pepper takes them out of the ordinary. And a mousse of Norwegian salmon, with finely chopped baby spinach cushioned between layers of the mousse, sprinkled with chopped pecans, comes afloat in piquant remoulade. It is so good, I find it hard to go on to the lamb chops, even though lamb is one of Georgio's longtime specialties.

The closest to what one might expect on an appetizer menu is a touch of the Mideast, grape leaves, rolled up around a tight package of seasoned rice and ground lamb, made by hand in the kitchen. Once you've had a serving, you may find, as I have, that these are a standard against which you measure grape leaves anywhere else.

Scallops are another of Georgio's favorite entrees, broiled (my preference) or sauteed with mushrooms and served in a thin, slightly peppery cream sauce. They are served with a spoonful of rice - a delicate tomato dressing atop - and crisp fresh vegetables. The menu includes boneless breast of chicken in three presentations; broiled in a dijon mustard sauce, on a bed of fettucine, or chicken Georgio's, sauteed with shrimp (tails left armored!) and mushrooms in a white wine sauce seasoned with capers and garlic. There's a veal entree prepared much the same way, as well as a chop and a piccata, but to sample a red meat dish, I opt instead for the lamb chops, two inches thick, broiled, and crusted with herbs, rosemary, cilantro, maybe some thyme. That reminds me of a personal bias against crusting or breading chops, despite the flavors they contribute, because I like to see where to cut along the bone or slice off the fat.

Vegetarian guests will be pleased to see that the regular menu includes - in addition to a Greek dinner salad and a spinach-egg combination (try it with french dressing!) - a meatless pasta and vegetable entree served with a marinara sauce.

Servings are generous, almost too much so for the plates on which they are served; any of the appetizers by itself could be a light supper. However, the presentation, which at the beginnings of Georgio's 15 years ago, tended to be a little slapdash, is now appetizing and pleasing without being too chi-chi. And while every one of the area's gourmet restaurants (how many can the Toledo market sustain?) could note an exception, my experience is that overall, Georgio's prices are the best in that category. Finally, the location, almost on the doorstep of the Valentine Theatre, is surely convenient in a reviving downtown.

GRUMPY'S, the downtown lunch restaurant, is moving to 34 South Huron St. and will reopen officially on Nov. 6. ( It may open even earlier; call.) In its new digs, it is expanding hours and offerings: continental breakfast, 7:30 to 10 a.m. Monday-Friday; lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday; fine dining, 6 to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

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