French fries are like the goodwill ambassadors of the culinary world—no boundary is too unsafe for them to cross. Dunk the starchy wedge in Indian curry, Italian aioli or good ol' American ketchup, or serve it with a greasy burger or in a bowl of shellfish—no one will complain. Especially not beer drinkers.

At North 45—the name refers to Portland's position above the 45th parallel—owners Jim Hall and Josh Johnston are using the golden tater to their advantage. They've established an unmistakably international theme for their new Northwest 21st Avenue pub with a menu created around the pairing of pommes frites and mussels (the former are actually of Belgian origin, despite the French ring). The pub's world-centric motif also extends to the decor. Instead of the traditional Guinness plaques and paper shamrocks plastered against the walls, maps are pinned to corkboards and travertine tabletops and dark chocolate cabinetry accentuates the men's-club-meets-Pottery-Barn theme. This masculine and relaxed ambience also distinguishes the establishment from its neighbors. Not divey like the space's former inhabitant, Wimpy's, or overly restauranty like Bastas or Serratto, North 45 has found its niche—serving gourmet pub grub to an easygoing crowd.

Although the menu reflects a frou-frou flair, the portions don't. All eight mussel dishes ($13 each) are piled high in broth-filled bowls and come accompanied by a cone of frites. Fry flavors are also matched to the mussel marinades: The ProvenÇal—diced tomato concassÉ, garlic and fresh lemon—is served with sea-salt frites, while the coconut lemongrass is plated with curry-spiced wedges. Fancy versions of greasy bar fare, like Alaskan rock fish and chips and an aged-cheddar bacon burger, are offered for those frustrated with little forks and discarded shells.

While North's selection of Belgian beers complements the bar's cuisine of choice, its cocktail menu pays homage to cultural favorites from around the world. The gingery Moscow mule and the eggilicious Peruvian YucatÁn pear martini are sure to please both globetrotting palates and Northwest P-towners detouring for an after-work pit stop.

North 45, 517 NW 21st Ave., 248-6317,

Dinner and late night 4 pmÐ1 am Monday-Thursday, 4 pmÐ2 am Friday and Saturday, 4 pmÐmidnight Sunday. $ Inexpensive.