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Sweet Music

Staccato's is new (very new) and good (very good)

For now, heavier appetites will have to make do with a handful of interim entrees. Staccato's big meat dishes won't come on line until February, when the rotisserie grill promises daily entree specials such as prime rib, stuffed pork loin, wild boar and leg of lamb. By the time we dined, late that fateful first evening, the start-up larder was getting a little bare. The grilled Gulf snapper was already gone, so we tried the salmon Milanese instead ($17.95) and stumbled serendipitously in love. The salmon steak was perfectly moist and firm, sealed up in a thin, crunchy crust of bread crumbs, grated Parmesan and a mix of fresh herbs, with tarragon predominant. Couched on a sunny bed of firm saffron rice and bathed with a subtle roasted shrimp sauce, it's a knockout.

We had equally good luck with the beef tenderloin crusted with black peppercorns ($23). I'm suspicious of anything "encrusted" with black pepper, but Bosse's Asian-themed infusion of red wine, star anise, thyme and lemongrass tames all that pepper so that it doesn't overwhelm the meat. "That sauce sounds weird, doesn't it?" asked Bosse. But it works.

The steak is crowned with a tower of delicate onion rings, stacked whimsically one atop another. Their golden light batter is gently flavored with Tsing Tao beer; they're good enough to go solo on the appetizer list. (Dacapo's regulars will be relieved to know that the alternate tenderloin interpretation -- with grilled coffee beans in place of the peppercorns -- has resurfaced at Staccato's. The novelty tempted me, but I was too afraid of a week's insomnia to order it.)

It's too early to say for sure, but I'll bet fortune will favor Staccato's. While the Guzman/Graham team may have lost some credibility during Dacapo's decline and garnered a revolving-door reputation for their kitchen, devoted Dacapo's fans should easily transplant from Allen Parkway to Main Street without suffering root shock. Advance bookings extending well into April bear witness to their loyalty.

Staccato's new spot is a pioneer outpost in that particular block of Main Street, and pioneers are sometimes identifiable postmortem by the arrows in their backs. But it's just around the corner from the nightly frenzy at the former Rice Hotel, where Dallas-based Sambuca maintains two-hour waits for weekend tables. ("Staccato's? Never heard of it," sneered Sambuca's earringed host.) Unlike our Dallas brethren, Houstonians eventually tire of long waits behind velvet ropes. We're just as likely to amble over to try a new place.

Right now, Bosse and Graham seem more jittery than mere opening-night nerves would account for, despite unwavering performances from both the front and back of the house. Is there a skeleton in the Staccato's closet? Are the finances solid? Will the downtown stadium ever be finished? I don't know. But I'm rooting for them.

Staccato's, 711 Main Street, (713)227-9141.

Got a hot restaurant tip or an interesting piece of food news? E-mail Margaret L. Briggs at margaret_briggs@houstonpress.com.

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