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Lynne wanted to try the veggie lasagna with its house-made whole-wheat pasta. I was surprised, but her instinct was right: In this carnivores' castle, it proved one of the best dishes, featuring layers of tender pasta, squashes, garlic, onions, carrots, red pepper, and queso fresco in an almost ethereal tomatillo sauce. (So it's Mexican, not Italian. No problema.) This was a paragon of vegetarian cuisine -- sweet, tangy, smooth, airy -- real comfort food that coasts angelically into your body and mind, offering satisfaction without satiety.

On the casual entrées side, the news is less uniformly favorable. But before we get into the sausages, I want to mention a probably excellent dish we didn't try: the "complete burger." It's made from grass-fed California-raised chuck that's ground in-house! Since the meat isn't being run through some slaughterhouse grinder with who-knows-what-else, nor traveling after it's ground, the risk of bacterial contamination is minimal. Hence, you can eat this burger as rare as you like. (I'd eat it raw, no worries. Bring on the tartare.) The burger comes with salty house-cured bacon made from America's best pork (Vande Rose's heritage Duroc hogs), plus Gouda, arugula, tomato, grilled onions, pineapple (huh?), and a free-range fried egg (optional).

The best sausage we tasted was the "superbison Mexi-dog," mixing free-range California-raised bison and Berkshire pork. It's moist and meaty and really captures the wild flavor of buffalo. It comes with house-cured bacon, pico de gallo salsa, smoked jalapeño aioli, house ketchup, and grilled onion on an artisan bun from Bread on Market. None of us could bear to wrap it in the bun -- too much fun to savor all the elements individually.

There are about five other sausages made daily from an ever-changing array. You can get one to three of these on a "picnic plate" or in a vaguely Alsatian-style choucroute (sauerkraut with white wine). Not being sauerkraut aficionados, we tried all five of the day's offerings on a pair of picnic plates. These come with Granny Smith apple and red-cabbage slaw and potato salad, both mildly pleasant, plus a couple of slabs of Gouda and a dipping sauce of nose-clearing, gooey honey-based house-made mustard.

It's been interesting to watch the Linkery develop its repertoire of sausages, but I've been mildly disappointed over time at the lack of consistent deliciousness. I'm an old friend of Bruce Aidells and watched (and tasted) with delight as his sausage-making business grew. He went from being a hippie with a converted fridge-smoker in his backyard into a national brand because he's a natural-born chef, with a powerful intuition about what will taste great. The Linkery's sausages are purer in some ways (they're all fresh, uncured, free of commercial sodium nitrates and nitrites), but -- alas -- nothing at the Linkery has ever equaled Cousin Brucie's least-spectacular sausage in flavor, although that bison dog is a powerful contender.

After chewing over the question for three years, I've concluded that the problem isn't the composition of the sausages but the technique used to cook them: All the sausages are poached before grilling. In contrast, when you buy a package of Aidells sausages from the grocery, you can do whatever you like with them -- grill 'em, skillet-cook 'em, griddle-cook them, or even boil them (aaagh!), like flaccid lunchtime wieners in a hospital cafeteria. At the Linkery, they've made one choice to fit all sausages, and I think it's the wrong choice.

Some sausages -- the porky mittel-European ones with thick skins and plenty of fat in their composition -- can withstand poaching, and may even improve from it. Others should never touch water -- it sucks the life out of them. These include fresh Italian sausages (like those at Pete's Meats); breakfast sausage (whether links or loaves); the delicate, thin-skinned boudin blanc from the southern region of Cajun country (Lafayette south to Houma); and fresh poultry sausages. Traditional cooks always cook these sausages in a greased skillet or on a griddle (sometimes finishing them off on a grill) -- and these folk have got folk wisdom on their side. Take the Aidells fresh chicken-apple sausage skillet-cooked for weekend brunches at the Farmhouse -- when you bite into one, it spills delicious sweet liquid into your mouth. Compare that with the much dryer-tasting chicken sausages here.

We tried two chicken-based sausages -- a chicken curry and a Thai. Couldn't tell which was which, as both were spicy but dry. One was marginally acceptable, the other fowl sawdust. The three pork sausages (all made with that fabulous Vande Rose pork from Iowa) weren't bad, but none was quite thrilling. It could also be that the restaurant is so dedicated to virtue in all aspects of its operation that it doesn't include quite enough pig fat (or alternative emollients) in the sausage mixtures.

The wine list offers fun and adventure. Ordering by the glass, Lynne, Jennifer, and I each enjoyed a crisp South African Le Bonheur Sauvignon Blanc, while Mary Jo savored a fine dry Sangria made from a decent red and seasonal fresh fruit. Sam enjoyed a semi-sweet Alsatian white (Pierre Sparr "Alsace One") and then an organic Dashe Zin, while I savored a crisp, dry Tavel Rosé for my second glass, finding it exactly as I remembered from Provence.

For the final round, Sam, a serious wine guy, brought an Oregon Pinot Noir from his own cellar. Under the circumstances (eight glasses of restaurant wine, including Lynne's first round at the bar before the rest of us arrived), the $20 corkage struck us as rigid and ungenerous. Many higher-end restaurants (J-Six, Better Half, Cavaillon, et al.) waive corkage if you buy their wines as well, and we'd bought the equivalent of two bottles. I asked Jay about this later, and it turns out that the restaurant's corkage policy has never really been defined. (See "About the Linkery," below.)

Time for dessert. We asked Travis what his favorite was. "Carrot cake," he said. Not meaning to joke, I said, "I've already been a hippie, eaten enough carrot cake for life." Neo-hippie Travis looked blank. The grilled pound cake with whipped cream and fresh raspberries seemed austere despite the garnishes. A special of grilled nectarines and vanilla ice cream with raspberries left us cold -- good ingredients, no unity. The coffees, French-press, are all virtuous; unfortunately, they no longer come from Caffé Calabria but from other local roasters. I asked Travis if any were dark roast. That would be the Costa Rican, he said. Dark it was, yes, but also thin and bitter. I added cream as though it were luncheonette coffee or instant. Meanwhile, Mary Jo was suffering with a cup of what she described as "dirty-tasting" Earl Grey tea.

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Comments

Barbarella Fokos Aug. 14, 2008 @ 5:10 p.m.

I went last night, same thing happened -- our green bean (delicious) appetizer showed up after the entrees. Irritating. Regarding the included gratuity, I would much rather have the prices built into the individual dishes ($10 instead of $6) and be told, "We take pride in our work and do not accept tips," rather than having it pointed out to me that there is a forced addition of 18% gratuity. I often tip over 20% anyway, even more so for excellence, so under this setup, the greatest servers may not be realizing the benefits of their diligence. Just some thoughts. Over all, the new place is fabulous and comfy, the food as tasty as ever, and although many of the markups on wine are exorbitant, I look forward to returning soon and trying those tacos.

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david Aug. 14, 2008 @ 5:31 p.m.

I agree with Barbarella that I would prefer that if the traditional tipping system is to be abandoned, then I would rather that all the high finances, tip percentages, and the distribution of wealth take place behind the scenes.

As Barbarella said, instead of saying a dish costs $6 with fine print that informs you that an 18% gratuity will be added later, just charge me $7.20 for the dish (20% "gratuity" -- I know Barbarella's a big tipper with her 67% tip in her example above, but I think 20% is fine) and distribute the extra $1.20 to the staff behind the scenes, along with a statement like Barbarella suggests "We take pride in our work and do not accept tips". Such a system would psychologically make me feel MUCH better, even though it amounts to the same thing fiscally.

I travel quite a bit and all of the small charges and surcharges really annoy me. I often say, "It's o.k. to dollar me, just don't nickel and dime me." by which I mean, add $15 or $20/night to the cost of my hotel room but give me "free" wi-fi, bottled water, maybe even some chocolates and a cookie. I would feel so much more positive about such an experience, whereas if I am charged $4.95 for a bottle of water in my room, and $9.95 for wi-fi, etc., it just sours my experience.

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antnyblu Aug. 25, 2008 @ 5:26 p.m.

How tasteless is it to specifically name this poor waiter's name? I actually had him a few weeks ago and thought his service was nothing short of amazing. He was a little green, but made up for it in charm. Very nice guy... and from your description it seems as though the runners brought your food out, right?... Also, have you ever worked in a restaurant? The cook was probably like "get this stuff out!" I have to laugh at your little rant "...approximately a quarter of a million San Diegans are reading that you blew it" Do you really think that all the people who pick up a Reader to use the classifieds and see which bands are playing actually read your reviews. You probably do. You are the probably the type of person who is more concerned with my poor punctuation than what I'm saying, but let me just say that I thought it was completely lame of you to straight out name someone in your review when you can't even use your real name. Am I right Naomi Wise?

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jack Aug. 25, 2008 @ 6:20 p.m.

Wow. You're mean. Instead of knifing the waiter in the back with his boss, why not just tell the runners about the error and have it cleared up there and then? I think that says a lot about you. Smile to your face, knife in the back.

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