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Urban renewal Amaryllis picks up the fine dining torch at Delaware and North

The basement of the Westbrook Apartments at Delaware Avenue and North Street has a long restaurant history -- and a checkered one at that. It started off well enough. The site was originally home to David's Table, one of Western New York's first French-influenced spots. Then it housed St. George's Table, also highly regarded.

But in later years, the space seemed to get more informal -- pizzerias and such. For a long time, it seemed to be empty.

Forget about any superstitions you might be harboring, though. There is no Ghost of Restaurants Past here. Amaryllis, which opened a couple of months ago, has turned the dining facilities around. It has been spiffed up beautifully, with walls painted a pretty rosy tone and tables set far apart. The ambience is quiet sophistication.

More importantly, the restaurant is being run by two young people who know what they are about. Both are culinary academy graduates and have worked at Rue Franklin. Though it's still in its early days and much too soon to say for sure, Amaryllis may well end up a winner.

We noticed right from the start that food here is treated with love and respect. The kitchen makes its own bread and phyllo, its own ice cream, ketchup and mayonnaise. The servers understand the details of the menu. And, speaking of menu, it has its moments but is not way out. Let me describe our recent experience.

Two appetizers called to us as soon as we sat down. One, a witty take on food in the Thomas Keller vein, was restaurant-smoked pulled pork with a roasted corn blini (pancake). This was pretty close to a perfectly balanced dish. The meat was just spicy enough, the blini just corny enough. Let's hope it stays on the menu.

Another temptation was the seared Hudson Valley foie gras ($10), properly silky, rich and decadent, though I would have preferred it a tad better done on the outside. The liver was (brilliantly) paired with grapefruit marmalade and honey.

The entree list included pan-seared salmon with mushroom risotto ($22) and golden polenta cakes with tomato sauce and parsley salad ($17). And, of course, there's the usual nod to the tired business person in us all: a grilled shell steak with potato puree for $23.

I opted for the pork loin chop ($22) not without a misgiving or two, since pork chops have been such a dry disaster in recent years. Surprise! The double chop was tender and actually juicy.

This happened, I was told, because the meat had been brined -- in fact the chef himself came out with the brine recipe to show me. (Yes, I suppose he knew who we were.) Anyway, I can't wait to try that recipe. The pork chop was accompanied by good sweet potato gratin, napa cabbage and cider sauce.

The Companion's smallish serving of rack of lamb ($26) was served with a classic accompaniment, flageolet (pale green kidney beans) very subtly revved up with rosemary and thyme. Oyster mushrooms provided the garnish.

An artisanal cheese platter is offered for $9, but we chose dessert for $6. The notable choice here was a baked apple served in a phyllo cup with apple brandy custard sauce and vanilla ice cream.

And just to add a little extra special crunch, the chef sprinkled some pulled sugar strands across the top -- one of your better touches.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

3.5 stars (out of 4)

AMARYLLIS

WHERE: 675 Delaware Ave. (878-2741). In the Westbrook Apartments, this lower-level restaurant is prettily decorated, professionally run and offers an interesting menu. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Smoked Pulled Pork with Roasted Corn Blini

NEEDS WORK: All food is of excellent quality.

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $17 include sides. Most entrees $20 and up.

SERVICE: Excellent

NOISE LEVEL: Moderate

HOURS: Dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Small bar menu, weekdays to 11 p.m; Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m. HEALTHY CHOICES: Golden Polenta Cakes with Tomato Sauce, Pan-Seared Salmon, Roasted Monkfish

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Elevator in first-floor lobby.

PARKING: On the street.

KID APPEAL: Get a sitter.

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