Fill 'er up, and then some, at the sassy and satisfying Blue Onion

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Take a taste tour of Mexico at this Ballinger Way eatery

Chef Scott Simpson is an accident waiting to happen. Guys with this much energy tend to burn out fast, so you'd best find him before he crashes. With business partner Susan Jensen at his side, Simpson's riding high, making his mark in a converted 1930s-era filling station along the far reaches of Roosevelt's automotive row. Once home to a succession of ethnic restaurants, this newcomer is now the happy headquarters of the wacky, wonderful Blue Onion Bistro.

Blue Onion Bistro
5801 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle

Reservations: 206-729-0579

Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.

Prices: Lunch $5-$9, dinner starters $3.50-$9, entrees $10-$17

Sound: Small carpeted room makes for easy conversation

Parking: Private lot

Beer and wine/Credit cards: MC, V/No smoking

Scotty and Susan, late of Bellevue's 22 Fountain Court (he was executive chef, she the pastry chef), are having so much fun playing restaurant they're practically giving the food away. My advice: Get over here before they raise their prices.

Blue Onion's décor is a junker's delight, with tasteful tchotchkes and comical collectibles hanging from walls and crowding windowsills. In the hallway dividing kitchen from dining room, a vintage potty-chair blatantly indicates that a sense of humor is an imperative here. Grins extend to the swell servers as well as the menu - a twisted take on New American cuisine that varies seasonally and offers "Some Kind of Soup," a "Plain Jane Salad" and daily specials that "Change with our moods which is often." The easy-drinking and affordable wine card urges, "No Crying Over the Small Wine List. Eat More!" You won't need urging.

Given the garage-sale glamour and sassy chef-speak, oddly juxtaposed with candlelight, linen napkins and an offbeat jazz/pop soundtrack, chances are you won't be prepared for the bottom line on the Blue Onion: The kitchen rocks!

At dinner, Jensen's homemade rolls are warm, herbed and delivered in an Easter basket. "Teasers," including "The Mandatory Vegan," are anything but. This entrée-sized risotto ($7) is a gift to purists of the vegetarian persuasion and a magnificent mouthful for the rest of us. The monster mushroom, marinated in balsamico and hoisin, rests over hominy-spiked risotto sexed-up with sun-dried tomatoes and surrounded by a slick of herb-infused oil.

Black Forest ham and mozzarella ($6) is proof positive that weird can work. Pan-seared ham is skewered and paired with slices of fresh mozzarella with honey-mustard sauce for dredging the meat, balsamico for swabbing the cheese, and a homemade pickle for crunching. I'm still salivating over that pickle and trying to figure out why this goofball concoction failed to set off my "spare me!" sensor.

As one brought up to believe that smoked salmon, capers, red onion and cream cheese belonged together on one stage only - a bagel - allow me to eat those words. And, hopefully, another slice of Smokey Salmon's Pizza ($9), a ridiculously right invention available at lunch and dinner.

If this joint had a bumper sticker, it would read, "Fill 'er up!" And that's easy to do, even if all you've ordered is soup. One night's spicy Cuban number ($3.50) had my tongue dancing the rumba. This marriage of beef, black beans and corn was packing heat - along with a festival of flavor. You could easily make a meal (OK, a meal and a half) of the Blue Salad ($6), romaine hearts tossed with tender house-smoked chicken, tart apple and enough crumbled blue cheese to do justice to a box of Ritz. But why miss the opportunity to try some of the special seafood? It might be a sophisticated slab of Chilean sea bass sauced with green olives and tomato ($14). Or a heavenly hunk of Asian-attired halibut with slender breadsticks poised chopstick-like over shiitake mushrooms ($16).

Dr. Scott's Maple Duck ($15) is duck breast roasted to perfection. Sweetened with reduced maple syrup and bolstered by link sausage, it's the gotta-have-it dish - if you don't count the Monster Cookie Sundae ($5) served with Olympic Mountain ice cream. I was less enamored of the "doctor's" pallid pork chop ($14), though its creamy, double-cheesy side of mac `n' cheese ($6.50 a la carte, at lunch) made me forget any shortcomings.

Flaky puff pastry takes chicken pot pie to elegant heights, literally. The soothing stew ($6 lunch/$10 dinner), suffused with smoked chicken, sunny vegetables and herb gravy, is better than grandma's. Sandwiches and burgers compose the bulk of the lunch menu, with soup playing sidekick to "Scotty's favorite" - a sardine sandwich ($7.50). Tomato, onion and olives mix with satisfyingly stinky sardines, as does a heavy-handed hit of chili-spiked mayonnaise. Mayo overdose afflicted an otherwise noteworthy chicken sandwich ($6.50) served with Caesar salad and potato salad - heaven forbid you should leave hungry.