Concept restaurants are viewed with a certain amount of justifiable suspicion—often too much effort is made in service of the concept and the food is just an afterthought. Despite some uninspired sandwich offerings, the menu of tweaked comfort food at 50 Plates—a sleek, earth-toned new venture from Lake O-based JoPa Restaurant Group—manages to steer clear of the usual pitfalls and delivers on its promise of cuisine inspired by old-fashioned American regional favorites with a clever upscale twist. The Garanimal mix-'n'-match structure of the menu rewards experimentation: Start off with any of the stellar salads, like the winning Green Goddess with pink shrimp, butter lettuce and avocado; consider the "mac 'n' cheese," a small bowl of layered rigatoni, each tube stuffed with chicken and fennel and lightly bathed in a rich cheese sauce, accompanied by a small, perfectly dressed fennel and watercress salad. Couple that with a side of salt-roasted beets and you've assembled an eminently satisfying meal. Who says whimsy has no place at the dinner table?
IDEAL MEAL: Sliced-tomato salad, fish over succotash, Faux Hos (chocolate sponge cake in a chocolate shell).