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Friday, April 28, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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RESTAURANTS

Geneva's new name, Old World formality

Special to The Seattle Times

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RESTAURANT REVIEW

Geneva

1106 Eighth Ave.

Seattle

Reservations: 206-624-2222

Hours: Dinner: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Prices: Appetizers: $5.75-$16.75; entrees: $15.50-$27

Parking: on the street

Full bar/Major credit cards/Obstacles to access: two steps at entrance/No smoking

Continental

2 1/2 stars

$$$

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"I wish I had my slippers on," confides my dinner companion, raising a frosted glass of beer to her lips. For all the Old World formality of Geneva - waitresses in starched white shirts and stunning silk ties, a crystal chandelier dripping from the domed ceiling, silk wall hangings framed by ornate molding, glass-fronted oak cabinets displaying eau de vie, grappa, brandy and port - it's a place that invites relaxation.

Within minutes of arriving, we are tucked in a corner nook of the small, graciously appointed dining room sipping drinks and contemplating the menu. Our coats have been whisked away to a closet. A Mozart symphony plays on the edges of our conversation, as it might have done 75 years ago, when this was a tearoom for residents of the Lowell Apartments upstairs. Gradually the complexities of modern life relinquish their grip and recede, if only for an evening.

Geneva comes by its European charm honestly. It was known for a decade as Reiner's, even after Reiner Greubel sold it to longtime Rainier Club chef Hanspeter Aebersold and his wife, Margret, in 1995. The Swiss-born Aebersolds have made few discernable changes over the years - until January, when they renamed the restaurant.

For all its grandness, it's still very much a mom-and-pop shop. The polite voice on the phone belongs to Margret Aebersold, who offers a warm welcome at the door. She oversees the wait staff, who are so quietly competent you forget they are there. They even refrain from asking if everything is all right, so confident are they that they've attended to every detail.

Toward the end of your meal, chef Aebersold shyly emerges from the kitchen, where he executes classic continental cuisine with considerable skill. Surprises are few, but so are disappointments.

Calf's liver ($18) is astonishingly good. Pan-fried to a thin crust, it's topped with sauteed onion, curls of bacon and apple slices. Sole ($19) is also handled with finesse. The slender fillets are perfectly sauteed, generously portioned and lightly sauced with lemon, capers and butter.

Roasted rack of lamb ($27) basted with garlic, mustard and rosemary is tender and juicy, unlike the tough filet mignon, that begs (as we longed to) for more of the excellent madeira sauce. Plenty of savory wine sauce cloaks nubbins of veal tenderloin and button mushrooms ($24), oozing deliciously into crisp rosti potatoes.

Most entrees come with the same seasonal vegetable (recently asparagus), but starches do vary and are used to good advantage, often adding texture to each precisely arranged plate. Spaetzle travels alongside the hearty jaegerschnitzel (pork cutlets smothered in onion, bacon and mushrooms, $19.50). A buttery tower of thinly sliced potatoes Anna joins the lamb. Potato pancakes partner the calf's liver.

Small potato pancakes add pleasing crunch as well to an appetizer plate of fine smoked salmon ($9) sporting all the appropriate garnishes: capers, red onion, horseradish and sour cream. Gruyere perfumes the air when a bubbling bowl of French onion soup ($5.75) arrives as a starter, but lobster bisque ($6.75) seems thin, lacking much cream or brandy. Escargots ($8.50) nestled in mushroom caps derive most of their flavor from a salty garlic, herb and butter sauce.

As for salads, they are ample enough to share, but the baby spinach is overburdened with balsamic vinegar and the Caesar is bland, though not as dull as the "Cicero" dressing on the escarole salad that our server accurately describes as "like a Caesar but without the anchovies."

The wine list is more sophisticated than the quality of the wine glasses suggests. A mix of Old World and new, there's plenty to interest the connoisseur, and enough familiar labels and modestly priced bottles that novices won't be lost.

If Margret Aebersold should mention, when she hands out the dessert list, that the berries are particularly nice, pay attention. You can have them any way you like. But make sure someone else at the table orders the flaky, apple-filled strudel that's served in a caramel puddle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It could only taste better with your slippers on.

CONTINENTAL The restaurant that used to be Reiner's has changed in name only. For all its charming Old World formality, this is a place that invites relaxation. Swiss-born chef Hanspeter Aebersold executes classic continental cuisine with skill. If surprises are few, so are disappointments. Pan-fried calf's liver is astonishingly good. Delicate fillet of sole couldn't be more deftly handled. The steak may be tough, but the lamb is tender. Swiss specialties include veal tenderloin in a savory wine sauce, jaegerschnitzel and, for dessert, a magnificent strudel. Margret Aebersold oversees the wait staff, who are so quietly competent you forget they are there. Reviewed 4/28/00 by Providence Cicero. 1106 Eighth Ave., (downtown) Seattle (206-624-2222).

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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