Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Tuesday-Saturday, dinner 5-10:30 pm Monday-Friday, 5-11 pm Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.
[CASUAL AND ECLECTIC] Neighborhood joints—even upscale ones—are allergic to upheaval. At Cafe Castagna, starters like arancine (fried risotto and fontina balls), a butter lettuce salad with creamy tarragon dressing and scallops have been regulars on the menu for half a decade. Small innovations to these staples keep people coming back for the cafe's mix of French, Italian and southern European fare. In the midpriced-entree category, old reliables include an upscale mac 'n' cheese (recently with Gruyère and cheddar, $15) and pizzas with crunchy, paper-thin crusts. An excellent interpretation of an Alsatian flammekueche casserole, featuring bacon and onions soaked in crème fraîche, had the perfect thrust of thyme. Toward the bottom of the menu, a recent take on halibut steak was served over a stew of artichoke, onion and potato—a nuanced mixture of earthy and briny. Nevertheless, missteps aren't uncommon—like perfectly seared scallops and fennel, served with ruinously underripe grapefruit. Cafe Castagna is spendy for a casual dinner, but the service and space are welcoming. HANNA NEUSCHWANDER.
Ideal meal: Chilled borscht ($8), egg with lardons and toast ($11), and goulash ($18).
Best deal: The popular bistro hamburger starts at an affordable $11.
Chef's choice: Spicy Italian sausage pizza with braised beet greens. "When the pizza cooks, the moisture from the sausage is absorbed by the greens, which makes its own little sauce."(Matthew Lightner)