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A New Downtown Jewel: Joolz adds a little variety to the scene 

Hummus, check, kebabs, check, spirit apparition server, check. With the corpse of Bistro Corlise still warm, and its cherished memory fresh in my mind,

Hummus, check, kebabs, check, spirit apparition server, check. With the corpse of Bistro Corlise still warm, and its cherished memory fresh in my mind, I figured I'd instantly and probably unfairly compare, contrast and ultimately find fault with whatever took its place. That was before I heard about Joolz. The latest from Ramsey and Juli Hamdan, owners of the Jackalope Grill until 2005 and more recently Barking Squirrel Kitchen and Catering, Joolz couldn't be further from the classic French cuisine of its predecessor. The menu, tagged "Where Mezze Meets the Mesa," features traditional Middle Eastern flavors and recipes (Ramsey is of Lebanese extraction) with Southwestern accents and a nod to local ingredients and preparations. Being a recovering big city gal, constantly craving the many and varied ethnic foods of my former life, they had me at halloumi-and hummus and kafta and kebabs.

The room, while largely retaining the layout and the core fixtures from the old space, has been thoroughly beJoolzed with assorted pieces of Middle Eastern flare like hanging metal lamps, hookas, camels and bright shocks of cloth to complement the orange and brown drapery. Mesa touches, most notably a series of stylized mounted horns from various ungulates, are interspersed in keeping with the concept. The result is a comfortable, festive dining room with great lighting and a large and lively bar area that's ripe for the happy hour scheduled to begin in the next week or so.

The menu is faithful to the mezze theme with a long list of small plates and an interesting cocktail menu (try the Scarlet Mary-as they'll tell you, the not-so-secret secret ingredient is steak sauce), but also offers several salads and entrees, both Middle Eastern and Americanized, for those who prefer a more conventional meal. Prices are very reasonable across the board, making Joolz a great option for anything from a drink and a snack to a feast. Among the mezze, my favorite was the Oven Roasted Cauliflower ($6). A dish that I've had many times before, the Joolz version avoided the usual pitfalls of being too greasy, soggy or bland. The lemon tahini sauce that accompanied it was absolutely perfect. A close second was the Hummus on the Range ($11), a classic, well-executed hummus topped with chunks of elk meat, pan-seared with garlic, lemon, sumac and parsley served with triangles of fresh, toasted pita. The only slight disappointment was the kafta meatballs ($8), made with ground beef, parsley and garlic in a Mediterranean tomato sauce. Just a hair overcooked and a dash under-seasoned, they may have escaped criticism were it not for the quality of everything else.

Entrees range from a $10 burger to a $27 rib-eye steak, but most come in closer to the lower end. The falafel ($10) served with tahini, pita and Armenian pickles had a good, traditional flavor and was crisp and light. Mixed Seafood Cazuela ($24), a stew of prawns, fish, clams, mussels and fingerling potatoes simmered in a spiced tomato broth and gremolata was perfect for sharing and quickly devoured by my table, as was the lamb kebab ($16), marinated in herbs, pomegranate and garlic. I also highly recommend the Chermoula seasonal fish, which was halibut in my case, spice rubbed and oven roasted served with braised swiss chard and rice pilaf with a tomato-based sauce that was so good I could have used double the amount.

As much as it came in the wake of the untimely demise of one of my most beloved spots, Joolz couldn't be a more welcome addition to the downtown dining scene. I fully intend to become a regular. Now if someone would just open a Korean restaurant, I might never go back to the big city again.

916 NW Wall St., 388-5094 Dinner daily, 5 p.m.-close (lunch and happy hour coming soon)

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