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Burning bright Torches lights the way to fun and tempting dining

The torches that burn brightly outside this brand new restaurant have a new home now, and they cast a welcoming glow on Kenmore Avenue. After all, history is on their side. The torches come from the late Park Lane restaurant.

There's other history to build on, too. Although it has been attractively duded up with curtains and hardwood floors, Torches occupies the site of the late, highly regarded Tsunami restaurant and has been helped a bit in its launch by Tsunami's former chef Mike Andrzejewski, now teaching at ECC. Not to worry, though; the two young brothers who run Torches, J.J. and Kevin Richert, have plenty of culinary experience behind them, anyway. The men worked at Prime 490 and Nektar, respectively.

And the menu they've produced is both tempting and fun to read. Note under "Pasta" "Nickle City Mac and Cheese." It comes in for $8 and consists of elbow macaroni in blue cheese alfredo with goldfish cracker-crusted chicken, sundried tomatoes and green onion -- topped with fresh crumbs. (Does Mr. Kraft know abut this? He better.)

And how about the "007 Salmon" entree ($17)? The fish is grilled with a little parsley and served with a gin Martini sauce. (No word on whether it is shaken or stirred, however.)

We began our meal with Handmade Potato Gnocchi ($10), sauteed with mushrooms, resting atop a sage cream sauce. We also noted a hint of Gorgonzola. It was hard to believe that those gnocchi actually stayed on the plate. They were so light, they could have been airborne.

Another beginning course is the Pot Stickers (the filling changes every day). These were stuffed with Jamaican Jerk Pork -- a great idea -- and two dipping sauces accompanied.

And I simply cannot leave small plate sections without mentioning the Risotto Arancini ($6) -- a great big ball of rice stuffed with mozzarella and served with two sauces: a smoked ham pea puree and a charred tomato glaze. Not only is it great looking, it also got raves from the guy at the next table. Next time.

We move to entrees. And the blockbuster of blockbusters: the Filet Mignon Trio ($35). Your cardiologist will love it. It's three (count 'em three), 3-ounce beef tenderloin medallions topped with lobster butter, and a pan-seared sea scallop and Cajun grilled shrimp. Nothing succeeds like excess after all -- the meat was accompanied by a crisp potato pancake.

Then there was the evening special: sunflower seed-crusted baby halibut served atop wilted spinach and polenta with Peppadew sauce. (Peppadew is an equally balanced sweet/hot chili, in case you ask. I had to.) There was plenty to eat and it was tasty, though maybe the fish had been cooked a bit too long -- the thick coating was nicely crusty.

Other innovative dishes include Shrimp Carbonara ($15); Vegetable Lo Mein (with mushroom, broccoli and snap peas, $8); King Po Chicken, peanuts and all, served over fried rice ($12); and Ahi tuna ($23) seared with onion, capers and olives, drizzled with fennel-infused extra version olive oil.

Now to the desserts -- and here the house imagination lags a bit. My Key Lime Pie ($8) tasted gelatinized and the Chocolate Amore, a red ice wine served over vanilla ice cream, missed somehow. It promised more than it delivered.

But I should add these were our second choices. The kitchen, sadly enough, had run out of the Espresso Creme Brulee finished at tableside ($7). What fun.

Hang on. Surely as time goes by, there will be other even more innovative ideas.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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TORCHES

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

WHERE: 141 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore (447-7915). New name, new ownership for a nicely redecorated eating place with a well-balanced yet innovative, sophisticated menu. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Handmade Potato Gnocchi

NEEDS WORK: Dessert menu

PRICE RANGE: At dinner, light plates from $6. Entrees with sides from $12. (Most entrees in the $20 range.)

SERVICE: Excellent

HOURS: Lunch, Monday through Friday. Dinner, 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

PARKING: Lot next door.

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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