LOVELY HULA HANDS

BACK WHEN IT WAS HOUSED in a bright pink Foursquare, tucked away between N Mississippi and N Interstate Aves, Lovely Hula Hands almost had it right. The shabby-chic décor was invitingly homey and the service hospitable, but the fusion food just didn’t quite gel.

Then last year, owners (and sisters) Sarah and Jane Minnick moved their little eatery five blocks north on N Mississippi Ave to a boxy, bricks-and-mortar, two-story building. With a more solid foundation beneath their feet, they hired chef Troy MacLarty, most recently of now-defunct Family Supper, and everything began to taste a whole lot better.

While the Minnicks have managed to replicate the chintz-charming ambience of their former digs, MacLarty has infused the small menu with a Chez Panisse-inspired passion for seasonal ingredients. Which means that by sautéeing a dozen tiny, green and mild padron peppers from Viridian Farms and sprinkling them with fleur de sel, MacLarty makes them (and other such ingredients) taste more like the earth they came from than when they were picked.

It also means that in August, his signature creamy soufflé is made with sweet corn, summer chanterelles, bright green spinach and cippolini onions; and that in the fall, it contains buttery leeks, roasted cauliflower and celery root. A simple chicken breast paillard comes with a salad of cherry tomatoes, roasted corn, mozzarella and avocado in September, but come December it’s breaded and fried, served over a Moroccan-style chickpea and broccoli ragout.

At once rustic and incredibly fresh, this is American slow food at its finest, served with a signature romantic flair in a dining room that’s very, very easy to come home to. 4057 N Mississippi Ave, 503-445-9910