Entros Satisfies Both The Mind And Stomach

Restaurant review

XX The World Grill, at Entros, 823 Yale Ave. N. ($$) Creative cuisine with Northwest ingredients. Snacks and dinner, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Sandwiches and salads, $6-$7; entrees $12-$14. Full bar. Most major credit cards accepted. Reservations: 624-0057. -----------------------------------------------------------------

When the menu at Entros urges you to play with your food, it doesn't mean build mashed-potato mountains tunneled with gravy rivers. At Entros, you can punctuate the waits between appetizer, main course and dessert with any of half a dozen games in Entros' "intelligent amusement park."

Created in May 1993 by partners Stephen Brown and Andy Forrest, Entros is a restaurant whose slick industrial interior you enter by slipping through inflated red fabric columns - a taste of games to come.

The games have become such a draw that they have all but obscured the fact that Entros is first and foremost a restaurant, serving up cuisine to rival the city's best.

Several vegetarian dishes

Chef Marianne Zdobysz, formerly of Chez Shea, has created a moderately priced menu with plenty to pique the appetite and the imagination. Perhaps because sous chef Matt Costello is a vegan, nearly a fourth of the menu offerings is vegetarian, many of them choice enough to tempt hardened meat-eaters. Consider roasted sweet

peppers stuffed with cremini mushrooms, broccoli, yellow squash, onions, basmati rice and cashews, baked and served with tomato coulis, at a price of $5.50.

You get the point that with the menu as with the games, imagination and inspiration count for more than rules. Dinner begins with a basket of excellent Italian bread and a pot of sweet butter.

Main courses are a kaleidoscope of surprises that pull inspiration from unexpected parts of the world. One recent evening, we chose Berbere chicken breast, infused with a peppery Ethiopian spicing redolent of cardamom, coriander, star anise and cayenne pepper, moistened with orange juice. And on Balinese pork tenderloin, gently cooked with coconut sauce sparked with ancho chilies. The moist slices wafted a heady aroma of lemon grass, ginger and cilantro. Chef Zdobysz garnished it with sprigs of oregano flowers.

Such recipes could tempt a heavy-handed approach in the kitchen, but Chef Zdobysz has a fine sense of restraint and knows when a hint of fragrance is more seductive than sensory assault.

Both entrees were accompanied by an array of crisp, steamed vegetables served cold in deference to soaring temperatures outside.

Salad consisted of pockets of paper-thin wonton wrappers stuffed with scallops and fried to a uniform brown crispness, served on a bed of crisp mixed greens dressed with lightly sweetened vinaigrette and sprinkled with crunchy rice noodles.

The furthest we could bestir ourselves for play was a trip to the bar to fetch a pair of tabletop games that challenged coordination at dropping steel balls at appropriate moments.

The fragrant vanilla ice cream that obligingly took its time melting beside the flaky crust of fresh peach cobbler was, like all the desserts, made in house. The excellent coffee comes from Torrefazione.

Fun-filled atmosphere

As we ate, a steady flux of small groups wandered by the table with perplexed expressions, in search of clues to one of the games. A palpable air of fun and elevated spirits animates the place. It is contagious.

Surroundings that look like quirky decor - a giant E suspended from a corner of the ceiling, a cut-out sculpture of a brain and colored twine stretched taut overhead - are game clues awaiting discovery.

Game rooms are arranged around the perimeter of the cavernous central restaurant space dominated by an oval bar of gleaming stainless steel.

Dinner and games are priced separately. You can drop in for dinner and amuse yourself with any of the small games at the counter, and pay only the modest menu prices. Or buy a one-night pass to the big games for $12. There's too much to take in on one visit, so Entros offers a two-month game pass for $23 and a four-month pass for $39.

Games change twice a year. They're due to change Sept. 10 to a theme of "Spy by Night: Adventures in International Espionage."

There is nothing like Entros anywhere else in the country, according to Brown. "We're one of a kind," he says. "When we dreamed this up, we were so new we sometimes couldn't remember what we were. We needed a name that didn't mean anything, so people wouldn't think they knew what we were doing before they experienced it."

Entros fit the bill. Good food. Good fun. Times reviewers visit restaurants anonymously and unannounced. They pay in full for all food, wines and services. Interviews of the restaurants' management and staff are done only after meals and services have been appraised. They do not accept invitations to evaluate restaurants.