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There are only two other serious main dishes: grilled wild salmon with “smoked bacon jam” and “fiery brussels sprouts,” and sirloin pepper steak with au gratin potatoes and frisée salad. More casual entrée choices run to bar-food: burgers (turkey, bison, beef); a croque monsieur hot ham-and-cheese sandwich topped with béchamel sauce; codfish and chips; pasta; steak salad. (Methinks the bar here may support the dining room.)

Just as my friend the Lynnester is on a secret search for the best fries, I’m a secret collector of mac and cheese — forbidden food for low-carbers and therefore all the more tempting. We ordered a side of it. It’s very creamy and soothing, made with mild white cheddar and large, soft macaroni — a matter of taste, but I warmed to it as I ate.

After all this, we didn’t want or need dessert, but several items on the list were tempting. We chose the lemon tart. The pastry was rather heavy, but the lemon curd was satisfying, and the meringue topping was ethereal. I was also sorely tempted by a goat-cheese cheesecake — but enough is enough. The espresso was a bit too bitter.

Our food-only costs were about $32 each; skip appetizers, and you could easily get away with less. I can’t call the food very creative — it’s more like classic bistro grub (as well as pub grub) — but the experience of eating at Currant makes for a good time. The personable maître d’, well-made entrées, affordable wines, decent lighting, and un-rackety sound level are all easy and relaxed. I recognize my secret prejudice in its favor — it engages my undying inner teenage beatnik, the feeling of being comfortable in a wannabe Parisian ambiance of quiet retro jazz, bistro decor, and absinthe drippers. Even if it’s make-believe, I’m more than willing to partly suspend disbelief for an evening, so long as the cooking is nearly as tasty as the atmosphere.

Next week, I’ll begin alternating with two other devout foodies. I’m thrilled to say there’s confirmation that Kirk K. (of mmm-yoso, my favorite local foodblog) will be joining us. His tastes are wide ranging, with particular expertise in Asian cuisines, so look forward to better coverage of the treats in the areas of Convoy Street, Linda Vista, Kearny Mesa, et al.

The second calls herself “Emma Goldman,” a local writer and a foodie — but this is the first time she’ll be marrying the two interests. She’s a downtowner, a married mother of one picky eater, and instead of following standard review format, she’ll be creating a format of her own. I look forward to seeing what she’ll do. ■

Currant

★★★ (Very Good)

Sophia Hotel, 140 West Broadway, downtown, 619-702-6309; currantrestaurant.com

HOURS: Lunch weekdays 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner daily 5:00–10:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday brunch 9:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; bar until midnight.
PRICES: Starters, $5–$11; burgers, $12–$14; mains, $14–$25; sides, $5–$8; desserts, about $9.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: French-accented SoCal cuisine, ranging from mildly ambitious pub grub to French bistro dishes with a local spin. Global wine list at modest markups, 20 choices by the glass; 16 international craft beers. Full bar with well-made cocktails, absinthe service offering several brands and styles.
PICK HITS: Hanger steak and fries; mussels and fries with French curry; Duroc pork chop; beer-can chicken. Possible good bets: pepper steak; goat-cheese cheesecake.
NEED TO KNOW: Valet parking $5 around the block on Front Street. Entrées more interesting than starters. Happy hour in bar 4:00–7:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.–closing. Conversational noise level, casual ambience. One lacto-vegetarian risotto entrée.

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