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Branching Out 

by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & leek interiors with shimmery tile and etched glass may not seem particularly arboreal, but the minimalist vibe at Twigs has a soothing, earthy quality that is pleasingly inviting. And if the d & eacute;cor doesn't do it, their award-winning drink menu will. (Twigs won this year's "Best Cocktails" award in our readers poll.)





So we ordered a round of drinks from the two dozen martinis they have to choose from and began to peruse the food side of the menu. Here's a restaurant that isn't afraid to go global -- in the appetizers alone you'll find naan bread served with hummus, a spiced tomato confit, olive tapenade and marinated feta ($9). Maybe you're feeling Japanese. In that case, try the ahi tempura ($13) or ahi sashimi ($14).





We decided to head south for some New Orleans shrimp ($11). Here large prawns are served in a spicy Creole butter with a grilled baguette. The plate had somewhat of a haphazard appearance, but the spice level in this dish was just about right -- enough heat to make a statement without burning up your mouth. Still, it was a little too oily. Much more successful was the Moroccan beef ($13). Little chunks of beef were nicely seasoned with just a hint of cinnamon, among other spices. Thin slices of rosemary biscotti and a little bowl of Gorgonzola fondue accompanied the beef. We were a bit skeptical about Gorgonzola fondue with the spicy beef, but it worked quite well and was especially good with some of the balsamic reduction drizzled about on the plate. For an extra $1.50 we got some more bread to finish off the fondue.





Next up were salads. The toasted cumin pecan Caesar tasted strongly of seasoning salt and was overdressed. Our companions tried Twigs' version of the now nearly ubiquitous candied walnut-dried cranberry-Gorgonzola salad and found it was also swimming in dressing. Too bad, because there was no attempt to skimp on the tasty extras, and the lettuce was crisp and fresh. Moral? Get the dressing on the side.





For main courses, Twigs offers sandwiches, pizzas and heartier entrees, with something for every price point. For an additional $4 with entr & eacute;es, you can add a salad. Like the rest of the menu, sandwiches reflect a worldview. There's Kahlua pork ($10), blackened chicken ($10) and a Tuscan burger with pepperoncinis and prosciutto ($10). The curried ahi sandwich ($11) may be the single most globe-trotting item I've ever seen -- seared ahi tuna with tomato-cilantro jam and curry honey aioli, served up on naan bread.





On the strength of the Morrocan beef appetizer, I opted for the blue steak sandwich ($12). Here a little steak is grilled medium and served on a bun with tomato, lettuce, a lemon garlic aioli and melted Cambozola cheese. I didn't see any of the promised crispy onions, but what did it matter? There were so many flavors already going on here. The steak cut was, shall we say, very well marbled, but tasty. Even though the sandwich made a bold statement on the first bite, it was so rich that it was a bit overwhelming.





The pesto-crusted chicken ($17) was a pretty platter indeed; the chicken was tender and juicy, and the pesto crust had a bright, fresh taste.





The Under the Sun pizza ($13) we sampled was aptly named -- it contained nearly every meat under the sun: Italian sausage, smoked bacon, roasted chicken, prosciutto and pepperoni. The crust was crisp and chewy, but there was so much meat it was hard to taste the marinara sauce.





Steak penne ($16) was a m & eacute;lange of beef tenderloin morsels with crisp broccolini, garlic, shallots and bacon in a "white truffle scented parmesan cream." This was another very rich dish, and it was impossible to discern any truffle in the thick sauce. Still, its contrasting textures and the savory beef helped make this a successful dish.





For dessert, we indulged in one of the simplest, and tastiest, desserts I've seen in a while: the sticky cookie ($6). A hot chocolate chip cookie was placed atop three scoops of smooth vanilla ice cream and drizzled with hot fudge. Add some whipped cream and it's a simple dessert that makes you happy.





Service throughout our evening was appropriately attentive, and our server had an especially good knowledge of both the food and drink menus.


Like a wild tree, some of the menu items at Twigs may need a bit of pruning, but their unexpected taste combinations are often quite successful -- and lots of fun. n

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