by Mike Corrigan

Frankly, before I visited the Cosmopolitan Caf & eacute; last week, I couldn't imagine a more unlikely name for a restaurant located on this stretch of Dishman-Mica Road with an auto parts dealer, a public storage facility and a thrift store as neighbors.

Once inside, however, my fancy-lad pretensions fell away like broken shackles as I was immediately confronted with the restaurant's cheery, casual and contemporary atmosphere. I smelled the goodness emanating from the kitchen, and I was warmly greeted by the Cosmo's informative, affable owner, Tim Hanley.

"The Valley needs a place like this, kind of a hip, urban thing -- but in the Valley," says Hanley, who grew up in the restaurant business, earned a philosophy degree, owned a Seattle restaurant for 10 years and worked for a wine company before opening the Cosmopolitan in the old Niko's space in June. "I knew there was a market for it, for fresh, wholesome salads and non-fried sandwiches. But I also kind of hedged my bet by having a good old blue plate special."

Not interested in making the time and energy commitment necessary to cater to the dinner trade, Hanley has designated the Cosmopolitan Caf & eacute; a breakfast, espresso and lunch-only joint. The menu is short and sweet, but offers enough variety to satisfy widely divergent tastes. Breakfast options include basics such as pastries, yogurt, bagels and oatmeal, as well as more complex delicacies as the $5 breakfast burrito (potatoes, ham, egg and salsa wrapped in a flour tortilla and served with a cup of fresh fruit).

For lunch? The salad bar alone (again for $6.50) was a knockout. Inspired by "the offerings of the whole planet" and featuring something like 11 different, freshly made salads (leafy green; corn and black bean; fruit, beet and walnut; penne with pesto and pine nuts and asparagus), this option was so inviting that it almost stopped us from delving further into the lunch menu. The salads -- and we tried 'em all -- were uniformly fresh, delicious and interesting, they were easy on the eyes and served with a couple of slices of the hearty daily bread selection. We added the soup of the day (for $1 more) on the recommendation of Hanley who informed us that the enigmatically named "Pastrami a la Patrick" was actually created that morning by his 5-year old son. The unique chicken stock-based concoction with herbs, veggies, black beans and, of course, slivers of pastrami was nicely balanced, well-seasoned and delicious.

Though much of the menu is devoted to heart-healthy fare, there are several comfort food offerings to consider as well (like the bottomless Chili Four-Way for six bucks) designed to appeal to both sophisticated and pedestrian tastes. Case in point: the Chicago's Revenge ($6.50, as all the sandwiches are), a rather oblique denomination for what this actually is -- a meatball sandwich. Dodgy name aside, this combination of tender meatballs, red sauce, chopped onions, peppers and shredded mozzarella on a six-inch sandwich roll more than delivered on its threat. Though I felt it could have been a tad more generous, the sandwich itself was delicious. The thick red sauce (agreeably tangy and ever-so-slightly fiery) and the sturdy, chewy bread made for manageable mastication. The chips that accompanied the sandwich were not chips in the traditional (potato) sense, but chips in the Nacho Cheese Dorito sense. A most welcome surprise.

Other intriguing sandwiches that we eyed but didn't try include the La-De-Da Los Angeles, with red onions, avocados, cream cheese and artichoke spread, and the Shanghai Express, with grilled chicken, toasted almonds, green onions and sesame marinade in a pita. That blue plate special (again, $6.50) could be most anything the inventive kitchen staff dreams up.

The service was very afriendly and lightning fast (I've spent considerably more time waiting in McDonald's drive-thru lines for food that was barely edible). We also got a kick out of all the old menus from classic diners, cafes and restaurants that were under the glass tabletops and which tastefully adorned the walls. In addition to the full espresso bar, assorted juices and sodas, the Cosmopolitan features bottled beer and an impressive wine selection. There's also an infinitely flexible kids' meal (with juice, milk or soda, and a cookie, for just $3.75) that consists of whatever they have in the kitchen fridge. Peanut butter, pasta and hot dogs are always on hand.

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