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Mighty morsels That's one small bite for man, one giant leap for Sample

If your mother was like my mother, she probably told you not to talk while your mouth was full. Believe me, this will not be a problem at Sample.

This innovative and hip little place serves only hors d'oeuvres, each measuring about one bite's worth. So if you have anything really vital to say, it's easy to chew and swallow -- fast.

The Sample hors d'oeuvres are meant to be consumed in leisurely fashion along with some wine or perhaps an innovative cocktail -- sort of like tapas, in a way.

But tapas with a difference, please understand. You are not able to latch onto tempting little bites like Beef on Weck or Steak and Egg as you stroll the boulevards of Barcelona or Madrid.

Goodies like these constitute the whole menu at this restaurant. The young people who opened it -- Adam Goetz; his wife, Jennifer Goetz; and Edward Castine -- say that their mission is to reinvent the restaurant experience.

They are seeking what they call "cocktail party ambience." And in this attractive corner space with its bright mural, large bar and breathlessly approached loft, they are offering food full of humor, based as it is on the kind of standard favorites you'd find in almost any area restaurant.

But the food is anything but a joke. It's prepared with imaginative ingredients, and it's prepared very well.

Take that Fish and Chip for instance: It's lightly battered, fried salt cod with Napa cabbage coleslaw. And it's served atop -- no, not a potato chip; that would be too easy -- the waffled flat potato disc that's called a gaufrette.

Then there's the Steak and Egg. It's about a teaspoonful of pepper-crusted strip steak topped by a compact, tiny poached quail's egg on a round of toast. There's Sausage with Pepper and Onion -- only it's a chorizo medallion with grilled scallion and roast peppers on a corn arepa (Hispanic corn cake).

There's something called a Club Sandwich, too -- think lobster tail medallions with romaine, olive oil-poached tomatoes and apple-smoked bacon. The Beef on Weck has been braised in red wine, served atop a Barbie-size kummelweck.

Each of these will run from $2.25 to $3.25 each, so if you're really smart, you'll order a "Cocktail Party" of six or nine different items (the price per person runs $19 or $24 respectively, which includes a glass of wine).

This will, of course, necessitate making some hard decisions. Maybe you'll go for the Linguine and Clam Sauce, a fresh littleneck tossed in a tiny swirl of angel hair, or a surf and turf, grilled sirloin steak and lobster with asparagus and potato confit.

But that might mean you'd have to forgo one of the two smaller-than-demitasse soups. Something called "Cappuccino," a wonderful wild mushroom broth topped with rosemary-scented foam; or a Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, where the cheddar is smoked and the broth is made from charred tomatoes that you swear had just been picked in a nearby field.

Altogether, there are 12 different choices, and we haven't even mentioned the desserts, such as the Cupcake Trio -- three teeny numbers all in a row. It's a little like going to a child's birthday party, and it brought back memories -- except the kids I knew were never sophisticated enough to go for a vanilla cupcake with raspberry mousse. Or a lemon poppyseed with cream cheese frosting. Or an apple cake with caramel frosting.

They might have gone for the Chocolate Trio instead (a brownie with peanut butter frosting, chocolate chip cookie and a cocoa and creme fraiche cake).

A word about the cocktails here: They can be conventional or, let us say, experimental. Being of a conservative mind when it comes to potables -- the kind of person who opts for a nice slug of single malt on a cold night or a delicately balanced Belvedere Martini with a twist when the weather is warmer -- I admit I approach concoctions like a Blueberry Margarita with trepidation. But darn it, the thing was good. So was the Companion's Smoked Cherry Manhattan.

You will excuse me, I hope, when I report that neither of us could force ourselves to opt for the Honey Lavender Martini, but it's there if you want it. (So, as a matter of fact, is the Belvedere Martini or some nice wine if you're in the mood.)

Raspberry, Blackberry or Peach Bellinis are on hand also, which, come to think of it, does not sound bad at all.

The question inevitably comes up: If you visit Sample on an evening planning to have a full dinner, will you come away satisfied?

The answer is probably yes. One of my guests, known throughout the Niagara Frontier for his healthy appetite, claimed to be very content and happy.

But I'm not terribly sure that he didn't make himself a ham and cheese sandwich once he got home.




3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

WHERE: 242 Allen St. (883-1675). A very different approach to eating. This is an all hors d'oeuvre restaurant -- the menu consists of varied, bite-size items meant to be consumed along with innovative cocktails or wine. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.


NEEDS WORK: Food is of good quality.

PRICE RANGE: Individual hors d'oeuvre from $2.25. Six menu items and a glass of wine for $19 per person.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: OK on the first level.

PARKING: On the street.

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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