Empire-building can be a tough job, especially for restaurant owners and chefs. Recent conquests often get more loving attention than old stalwarts. So it goes with Mingo, the new incarnation of Northwest Portland's Caffe Mingo that launched last March at The Round in Beaverton.

Caffe Mingo owners Michael Cronan and Michael Tocchini decided to launch a Beaverton outpost in the suburb's most downtown-esque location, a sea-green semicircle of angular, forward-looking condominiums stacked atop retail outlets.

Mingo, as the new cafe is dubbed, is three times the size of its paterfamilias and sports a wall of modern, window-laden, rolling garage doors that look like a feature in a glossy architectural magazine. Inside, the decor seems inspired by a high-end loft, as the spaces of the bar, private room and dining room are loosely defined by visual cues--a round wooden table here, a handful of lime-green booths there, and rice-paper lighting sculptures everywhere. Clever glass wall insets display bright dried lemons and oranges that lend the place a cheerful, casual feel.

A date meal or a family dinner seems appropriate in this atmosphere. But it's the food at this cleaner, crisper version of Caffe Mingo that poses the question: Is newer better?

Michael Uhnak, formerly a chef at the old and now the opening chef of the new, is amped about Mingo, and with good reason. Uhnak's Italian cooking skills are well honed after working at Pazzo (with Tabla's Matt Johnson) and a four-year stint as sous chef at Caffe Mingo (with Vito DiLullo, now of Ciao Vito).

Before Mingo opened, Uhnak had the rare good fortune to design the kitchen. The chef describes Mingo's menu as "upscale, simple but elegant," and the starters deliver just that. The arugula salad ($10)--dressed in lemon oil and paired with parmesan and bresaola, a thinly sliced, air-cured, salted beef--is a classic, delicious combination well executed. The asparagus with lemon aioli ($7) is another good bet.

For a shared light meal, opt for a pizza. The crust is thin and slightly crisp at the edges, with toppings ranging from pesto and chicken ($10) to mushrooms and rosemary ($11) to the excellent sausage, tomato and mozzarella ($12). The orecchiette with sausage ($8 half, $16 full order) is a satisfying pasta dish, the richness of the noodles rounded out with fennel and cherry tomatoes. The New York strip steak ($22) was served more medium than medium-rare but made tasty with a horseradish butter.

It's a well-established tradition for Caffe Mingo regulars to request a family-style serving of penne al sugo di carne, a pasta dish tossed with beef braised in Chianti and espresso. At the new place, the dish is on the menu ($8 half, $16 full order), but the description doesn't mention the option of ordering the even-larger serving, which feeds four people ($32).

Uhnak manages without a pastry chef, and his desserts are served on homey, mismatched dishes that lend an Italian mother's touch to the presentation. A dry cornmeal pound cake ($6) is saved by orange cream and fresh berries. The chocolate mousse cake ($6) is better, at once dense and light, with the mousse contrasted by a crunchy amaretti cookie crust. But worth the trip to Beaverton by itself is Uhnak's panna cotta ($6), a chilled cloud of cooked cream topped with raspberries and blueberries. Divine.

Marring this near perfection, sadly, was sloppy service on more than one occasion. Perhaps having to muddle through detailed descriptions of four nightly specials makes the wait staff neglect to notice missing plates, uncleared dishes or the right time to offer dessert choices. More training and a specials chalkboard would be merciful solutions.

With a new kitchen, smart digs, the MAX shuttling out Caffe Mingo regulars, and appreciative Beavertonians eating Mingo up, it's no wonder Uhnak is enthusiastic. He admits that everything is "different" in the new kitchen at this new location. "Better," frankly, would be a more apt description of the food.


The Round at Beaverton Central MAX, 12600 SW Crescent St., 646-6464 11:30 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 5-11 pm Saturday. Closed Sundays. Credit cards accepted. Moderate-Expensive $$-$$$

Picks: Sausage, tomato, and mozzarella pizza, arugula salad with bresaola, orecchiette with sausage, panna cotta.

In addition to music and art, |Last Tuesday at The Round events feature food and wine tasting from Mingo and another Round neighbor, a new location of Typhoon!, Bo and Steve Kline's chain of fancy Thai joints.