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Four Courses at Sophia

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There's something to be said for having a BYOB restaurant nearby, walking home on a cold night with a Chardonnay as a jacket. But the charms of Sophia, at 1601 W. Main St., tucked behind Richmond in a nondescript building off Mandell, go beyond its geography.

Now in his second year solo, chef David Alvarado (formerly of Shade in the Heights and La Vista in the Galleria) offers comfortable but impressive food in a welcoming setting that sports local art on the walls and friendly, competent service.

We glance through the five entrees and nine soups/salads/starters on offer as soft bread and olive oil heaped with rosemary arrive. The short menu is consistent with the vibe here: Know your strengths and use them. Few dishes would be unfamiliar to most patrons, but few will have had them precisely this way, and that's engaging.

Since the mussels have had their day, we go for the brie plate. The roasted bulb of garlic makes me question why I never cook it that way. The soft cloves add a mellow, smoky tinge to a familiar plate that's also helped by arugula and some very solid homemade blueberry-raspberry jam.

When the main courses arrive, we start wondering why there are only 20 people in a restaurant fit for about 70. The grilled porkchop is thicker than expected and yet not at all dry.

Stuffed with spinach, bacon and goat cheese and served with parmesan polenta, the dish could have carried the traits of a Fox News pundit -- cheesy, salty and fat. But it didn't. Each component (filling, meat, polenta) tastes great with each of the others, in balance. The goat cheese is particularly nice, and our waiter says it's local.

We also try the seafood angel hair, and my companion is pleased, particularly with the mussels (there are only three, and I'm not allowed to sample).

Last, the house-specialty bread pudding holds golden raisins, pecans and dark chocolate. It's spongy, creamy and hot, and the berries make for especially pleasant bites. Here again, the dish is enjoyably subtle. The chai-spice pumpkin pie also sounded worth a try.

Sophia is open for lunch Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (11 p.m. on weekends). The restaurant also serves brunch on Saturdays Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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