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When you take your first step into Fork, a stylish yet unpretentious American bistro in Old City, your eyes get busy in a hurry. Once you make it past the luxurious velvet curtains that stand guard at the late 19th century building, you immediately notice the welcoming lounge area to your left, the exposed duct work above the room, the crowded bar that sits dead-center and the kitchen visible off in the distance. It takes a few seconds for you to process it all -- but that's all it takes. It won't be very long before you feel comfortable in Fork and, by the time your meal is finished, your stomach might just want to call the place home. It's laid-back enough for a first date and more than tasteful enough for an anniversary supper. Executive chef and co-owner Anne-Marie Lasher crafts a new menu every day that reflects the best seasonal ingredients in the the marketplace. And each one offers American food that imaginatively incorporates a multi-ethnic flavor. Before you even start on Lasher's sumptuous offerings, however, you might want to take a long look at Fork's wine list. On a recent visit, there were 24 bottles listed, the vast majority of which could also be purchased by the glass. The list was heavy on French, Italian and Californian wines, with the average bottle costing about $35. There is also a globe-trotting sampling of lagers, ales and aperitifs. Partner and wine director Roberto Sella has won countless accolades for his selections, which, as he told Wine Spectator, are meant "not for special occasions but for drinking with meals." The first-course dinner menu at Fork is an admirable piece of work. With nearly every appetizer going for less than $8, it presents a heady selection of distinctive dishes. The bruschetta with black olive chevre, roasted zucchini, peppers and pecorino romano, which is a steal at $6.50 and served with baby greens, is an absolute delight. Its sharp flavor and fresh vegetables made for a dish finer than any I've had in an Italian eatery. Fork's organic salad greens with white balsamic vinaigrette were marvelously fresh and a must-buy at $4.50. The real treat at any stellar bistro such as Fork is, of course, the main course. And the sampling that we encountered did not disappoint. The sauteed salmon with red wine sauce, which was served over a bed of french lentil pilaf and sauteed savoy cabbage, was a very reasonable $16.50 and a joy to eat. The salmon was just perfectly past tender, and the dish looked wonderful. Another delicious, surprisingly homestyle main course was the pan-seared "free-range" organic chicken with honey mustard sauce, served atop heaping servings of mashed sweet potatoes and snow peas. It was $14.50 and could have been something Mom might have made -- that is, of course, if Mom were a world-class chef. By the time your courteously professional server presents you with your dessert or any one of Fork's myriad after-dinner drink options, your hunger will have long since passed. You may be done eating, but you don't ever want to leave.

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