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Fun food; Still working out the kinks, new bistro shows great promise

Atmosphere @62, a new contemporary bistro at the corner of Franklin and Allen streets, occupies the site of the late loved Fiddleheads and comes with even more history. It's the sibling of a Gowanda restaurant that had been severely damaged by fire and forced to close. (There are reports that the Gowanda restaurant will reopen soon.)

The local Atmosphere has been redecorated in the same contemporary style of Fiddleheads and features a menu of standard favorites, brought up-to-date with contemporary accents.

The place is noisy -- hard surfaces bounce music that is turned up way too high for a place that takes food as seriously as Atmosphere seems to do. That means that everyone at the dining tables has to yell even louder to be heard -- not good for those ol' decibels. (We requested that it be turned down but the difference was negligible.)

Still, you don't need quiet to taste, and food can be fun here. Our favorite dish, Fried Mac and Cheese (an app at $8), is a case in point. I know that all of us have had mac and cheese up to here, but this one was actually different. Picture the standard American classic shaped into tennis ball-sized rounds and deep fried until crusty, then accompanied by tangy barbecue sauce and pineapple slaw. We loved it.

Peach Pizza Pita ($10) is another example of thinking outside the box. It's just what it says it is: "marinated" sliced peaches -- slightly pickled, explained our server, although "slightly" was the operative word -- mascarpone, honey and sage on fairly limp pita bread. The idea is enjoyable and different, one of those inspirations that sound great, but it needs work -- more sage for one thing; the dish cries out for an edge. And -- hey guys -- what say we crisp up that pita.

Another appetizer, Lobster Ravioli ($15), comes in a large enough serving for a meal. It's one large sheet of pasta -- can we call it an Italian Lobster Roll? Well actually, no. The pasta enclosed small amounts of lobster, sure, but much more scallops, shrimp and smoked salmon. (Not necessarily a complaint, just an observation.) Mozzarella and spinach are included, too. Creamy tomato sauce set it off nicely.

Entrees come with soup or salad, the soup of the day being Banana Pepper, unusual indeed. Very spicy but creamy enough to balance all the heat. Not for diners who shy from chili, no -- they should stick to the salad -- but worthy.

Filet of Sirloin ($15) comes with garlic mashed potatoes and can be ordered au poivre or Roquefort if that is your desire. Predictable but also tasty, tender and served generously.

Speaking of generous, the Stuffed Baked Pork Chop ($18) was an enormous thing, plumped up as it was with an apple walnut filling. The apple brandy cream sauce was pleasant, too, which was a good thing because the meat needed every bit of that sauce. The pork -- as it often is, alas -- was bland and on the dry side. On the other hand, the Roasted Lemon/Thyme Half Chicken ($15) was moist and flavorful.

Raspberry Creme Brulee for dessert was as good as it sounded.

Though Atmosphere @62 has been open for several months now, it's very much a work in progress still -- as perhaps all restaurants should be. But some things cry for attention right away. That sound system for one thing -- maybe pipe the music into the bar instead of the dining room. The kitchen should pay more attention to culinary detail, as well -- and many of the dishes prove it can do it. You know what they say the "proof of the pudding" is, of course.

Clever ingredients look good on a menu but they also have to romance the taste buds.

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Do you have a question about the area dining scene? Then Ask Janice! Email: janiceokun@yahoo.com.

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ATMOSPHERE @62*

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

WHERE: 62 Allen St. (881-0062). On the corner of Franklin and Allen streets, this new restaurant features some new contemporary food ideas. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Fried Mac & Cheese

NEEDS WORK: Peach Pizza Pita

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $14 include soup or salad and sides. Appetizers from $8.

SERVICE: OK

HOURS: From 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

PARKING: On the street

RATINGS: * indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.

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