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See and be Scene

Q Cafe may push style over substance, but substance comes through anyway

At dessert time, Q Cafe offers some formidable cakes, most notably a truly wicked, deep-deep chocolate fudge confection that out-Empires the Empire Cafe. It can't help but overshadow the cake du jour (think of it -- cake du jour!), which on one occasion was a cloud light, blackberry Waldorf angel-food number. Forget the distressingly named Mound of Joy, however, a sundae of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and coconut that is shy of impact and flavor but oversupplied with those irritating sauce-drizzles that make dessert plates such a nightmare of late.

And come equipped with a tolerance for disorganized service. The staff is pleasant, but overworked and inexperienced. (Mercifully, the befuddled young woman my companion dubbed "The World's Worst Waitress" has vanished, perhaps to a job for which she has more aptitude.) Large time lags are par for the course, and screwed-up orders are not unknown. It's here, on the service front, that Q Cafe feels far more like a bar than a restaurant.

Of course, it is a bar, with a bar's peculiar energy and sense of expectation. Sirens perch on long-legged stools at the curving counter, their own long legs silhouetted by fashionable down-lights, sipping martinis from flared cocktail glasses and watching the guys watching them. Expensively groomed men in suits and women in faux-Armani parade to the sexy pool room with its amber-colored tables and gorgeous wrought-iron halogen chandelier. A Chanel bag or two bobs through; a male ponytail or two sweeps back as sleekly as the curved-metal sconces that echo the constructed curves breaking up the space.

In front of the nostalgic banana palms and creamy tabbed curtains, a young neo reggae band struggles to erect a towering pile of amplifiers; it's Wednesday, Q Cafe's "Rhythm and Revival Night," and soon the spillover from nearby World Bait and 8.0 will filter in, bringing the average age down by about a decade, and bringing the decibel level up by a factor of ten. In a corner, the latest word in jukeboxes glows like some neon sculpture, emitting everything from Sam Cooke to the inescapable Gypsy Kings; far back in the pool room, an angst-ridden, neo-expressionist canvas looms moodily over the proceedings. For now, it's a scene; maybe later, when the cool edge of newness has worn off, when the owners quit fiddling compulsively with the rheostats and when they get comfortable with what their hot young menu consultant has wrought, the place will become a real restaurant as well. In the meantime, it'll do fine.

Q Cafe, 2205 Richmond, 524-9696.

Q Cafe:
quesadillas havederos, $5.50;
P.B.T. $6.25;
onion rings $1.25;
double-deep chocolate cake, $3.95

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