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Mark Weatherbee, the 35-year-old head chef at the Left Bank, has all the necessary tools to run a restaurant in a city populated with fabulous eateries.

The youthful-looking Buffalo native graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and came by his passion for the art honestly: His parents cooked for fun.

While Weatherbee has credentials from a world-class school, he regularly taps into another less obvious source of inspiration -- his imagination. Three years ago, he rolled out a special Valentine's Day menu, featuring an appetizer with grilled tiger shrimp on artichoke bottoms with baked goat cheese, citrus vinaigrette and balsamic syrup, all resting on a bed of mesclun greens. The fresh Italian bread served with the chef's concoction is perfect for sopping up the tangy juices.

"We sold a good amount the first time we made it," says Weatherbee, who appreciates the contrasting textures of the crunchy barbecued shrimp with the seasoned goat cheese. "By mistake, we had prepared an extra one. So I tried it and decided to make the dish part of the regular menu."

The dish has proven so popular at the Rhode Island Street bistro that many patrons order two and forego a traditional entree. "Even though this debuted in the winter, the dish reminds people of summer," says one veteran server. "It is light, delicious and satisfying. I don't see many people sharing it."

-- Brenda Alesii

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