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A Rare Pair

In fact, Coos Bay is almost always swimming with customers, and there's often a wait on the weekends. Diners have a tendency to really settle into the comfortable setting--contemporary Italian, filled with dried vines, stone archways, ocher lighting--and the menu is designed for leisurely dining, with tapas-like appetizers and share-with-me pizzas among the seafood and pasta dishes.

Occasionally those dishes can get a little too fussy, a little too fusiony. For example, the Thai pasta ($14.90) paired fresh lobster, crabmeat and shrimp with fresh tomatoes and a curry sauce, all over angel hair pasta. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, depending on which components shared the same forkful. The coconut-laced curry sauce was superb, however, and the seafood was definitely fresh. The seared ahi tuna ($14.90) was a much better matchup. The fish had been wrapped in chopped wild mushrooms, then sliced and cooked; risotto provided both starch and a complementary base, and the smooth red-pepper sauce brought the dish together.

Coos Bay has a way with pasta, as it proved with the pasta gorgonzola with shrimp ($12.90) and the aptly named "to die for" ravioli ($7.90). Both preparations involved intensely concentrated sauces: The gorgonzola was infused with the acrid edge of asparagus; the feta- and ricotta-stuffed ravioli were submerged in a pesto-punched tomato concoction. And the portions were huge.

At lunch the mood is more subdued and the servings are smaller, but the meals are every bit as satisfying. The pasta pomodoro ($5.50) was garlic-on-angel-hair-pasta heaven; the fresh tomato-basil pasta ($5.50) was even more vigorously flavored, with a spicy sauce that lurked in all the crevices of the farfalle. There was more pasta in the vinegary salad that came with the sandwiches, a chubby, smoky grilled portabello ($6.90) swaddled in Gruyere and a hefty grilled chicken ($5.90) on an unusual spicy herb bread slathered with lemon-caper aioli.

After a few glasses of wine from the well-chosen list assembled by Coos Bay manager J.R. Parsall and a rousing conversation with our comical waiter--who was quite knowledgeable about food--we were ready, as Dr. Laura would say, to go take on the day.

And a few chains.

Hugh's New American Bistro, 1469 South Pearl Street, 744-1940. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday.

Coos Bay Bistro, 2076 South University Boulevard, 744-3591. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-9 p.m. Monday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday; 5:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday.

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