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  1. Food

Restaurant review: The Restorative in Dunedin is doing its own thing, exceptionally well

DUNEDIN

The white bowl cradled at its bottom a passel of little house-made tortellini tucked in among a perfect brunoise of summer vegetables (tomato, zucchini, yellow squash), bits of fresh herbs and a few swirls of sauteed spinach ($10). A server brought over a small white pitcher and poured over it a blush-colored broth, richly tomato flavored but more like a consomme. Every flavor was lively, the vegetables' texture snappy against the plushness of the fresh pasta with its savory-umami bean puree center. Brilliant.

We eyebrow-waggled each other.

Another dish brought a rustic, buff-colored pottery plate slashed with a dollop of earthy but tangy beet puree across which were artistically draped pitted Rainier cherry halves, paper-thin rounds of radish, crescents of ripe poached plum, cubes of beet and what tasted like barely pickled red cabbage ($8). Whoa: fresh-fresh-fresh tasting and really interesting contrasts, the whole plate like a tipped-over jewel box.

Then a quartet of thick toast rectangles slathered with hummus enriched with fatty foie gras ($11), the combination strikingly unusual but so logical, a little crunch lent by quick-fried chickpeas. Yes, cut the beany-pastiness of the chickpeas with the ultimate animal fat, taking something everyday and blasting it into black-tie territory. That was followed by a heap of fresh corn niblets and hominy dotted with velvety planks of sauteed chanterelle mushrooms and a bit of peppery arugula ($9). Simple and summery, but also luxurious.

Our eyebrow-waggling escalated. Who are these people?

The Restorative is a new 18-seat restaurant in Dunedin, not downtown in the craft beer and hipster hangout corridor, but in the strip mall on Patricia Avenue that also houses the slightly rough-and-tumble Sully's bar and is across the street from Dunedin Lanes (cosmic bowling Fridays and Saturdays!).

The people in question are chef-partners Erin "Cricket" Plunkett, 26, and Jason Borajkiewicz, 34. Borajkiewicz is from Dunedin (worked for years with the Crabby Bill's folks); Plunkett is from Rhode Island. They worked together in places like Martha's Vineyard for a number of years, moving to Dunedin when an offer Borajkiewicz had put on a house (not a serious offer, mind you) was accepted.

They are doing things their own way. No phone, no reservations, an attractive but untraditional small dining room, and an open kitchen that almost seems like a laboratory and playground of two mad scientists. It's a tiny staff, a minuscule wine and beer list, and they aren't aiming to bring in hordes of people. Just enough to get them by.

Sit at the bar one day for lunch — they offer a handful of cheese and charcuterie options, a single sandwich, a single substantial dish and a couple of nibbles, all of it constantly changing. Eat your stunning manchego grilled cheese ($12) on thick-cut, house-made pullman loaf (it's a focaccia recipe actually, but they were tinkering), and watch Plunkett work. She's futzing with a spin on s'mores, a dessert for that night with two rings of orange-flavored marshmallow she has just made. She pipes in a ring of chocolate mousse, lays a quenelle of graham cracker ice cream gently at its center, sprinkles on some crunchy bits and stands back. Borajkiewicz tastes. Conversation ensues. It's chocolatey enough, but the marshmallow is sticky. You can tell that this back-and-forth is their fun, their hobby, their professional joy.

The formula at dinner, at least for now, is five small plates, three larger plates and three desserts, although one of those is always something fairly savory and cheese-based. There are going to be some people who say dishes are too small or not filling enough. There are going to be some people who say it is too veggie-centric or "healthy." And for these people there are plenty of other restaurants to fit the bill.

Plunkett and Borajkiewicz have a particular take, a particular story to tell, and it may not be for everyone. When an exactingly cooked rectangle of wild salmon is set before you, its top dusted with finely crushed pistachio, its bottom sitting atop beads of broccoli and sweet, creamy cauliflower purees, a few leaves of fried spinach translucent like stained glass ($19) strewn about, I hope you're the kind of person who waggles their eyebrows.

420 Patricia Ave., Dunedin

Cuisine:New American

Hours: Noon to 3p.m. and 5 to 9p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, brunch 11a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

Details: AmEx,V,MC,Disc.; no reservations; beer and wine; dine-in only

Prices:Appetizers $9-$11, entrees $17-19, desserts $7

Rating, out of four stars:

Food: ★★★★

Service:★★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

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