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"Let's talk about this Blue Lemon place," my friend said abruptly, in mid-rhapsody about a play in a recent NFL game. The man rarely strays from the topics of sports, literature and fine whiskey, so I knew this was serious.

"What is that place trying to be?" he asked in his New York accent. "It's a beautiful place and all, but some of the food is pretty casual — the sandwich was fine, but then the entrées looked like they came out of some fancy restaurant kitchen. But there's a café in the same place. I mean, what's it all about?"

I was surprised at his reaction. This was, after all, the place where we just had dinner and the food was mostly inoffensive while visually appealing, a match for the looks of the restaurant's stylish surroundings. Blue Lemon plays it safe with its "pure clean food with a twist" motto — maybe too safe.

Both locations (the original is in Highland in Utah County) are stunning. The interior of the restaurant looks modern, modular and is as appealing as a sleek iPod.

The Salt Lake City venue is in the heart of the new City Creek development. For people traversing this downtown wind tunnel during the holiday season, the Blue Lemon may be something of a godsend. The front space is a casual café (with coffee drinks) serving cleverly themed pastries like Blue Lemon bites (79 cents) and "creamy dreamy lemon puffs" (99 cents); refreshments to savor while you're watching the choreographed water fountains through the window.

The counter farther in is where you order heartier fare: appetizers, sandwiches, salads, soups and entrées. These aren't really hearty as much as slightly more substantial. To be sure, this is no house of grub. It is a temple of prudence, a place with a lighter touch of oils, fats and salts.

Post-Thanksgiving, most of us could probably do with a little pear and gorgonzola spinach salad ($8.50) — a giant bowl of mesclun greens, baby spinach and gorgonzola. The caramelized pears are tucked neatly under the pile of sliced chicken and lean bacon.

This salad, like other dishes here, is heavy on the sweetness. A bowl of the daily special butternut squash soup ($4) could have been dessert. A larger dose of salt would have balanced the sweet and made it more of a starter as it was billed.

At times, it seems Blue Lemon is trying too hard, like the blue food coloring in the house lemonade, which makes it look like you're drinking Windex. And it seems at odds with the restaurant's "pure and natural" motto.

The kitchen also tries too hard with its entrée of artichokes, tomatoes and chicken ($11.50). The elements are stacked like a split-level modern home, a dry chicken breast atop a mound of mashed potatoes atop a pool of a vibrantly flavored and colored roasted red pepper cream sauce. When the chicken is cooked properly and it's still juicy, it's a lovely dish. And it would be more believable with a more straightforward, less-architectural presentation.

What can be said about sandwiches that hasn't been said before? They have two pieces of bread, they have filling. At Blue Lemon there's balsamic chicken ($8), other times roasted turkey and avocado ($8.50). These aren't daring combinations. The twist comes from lemon-pesto aioli or ground turkey instead of beef in the burger ($8), which was exciting stuff circa 1994. Super tasters who prefer a cleaner, less adulterated approach to food and those who are exhausted from holiday feasting should enjoy this.

The place could do more by focusing on technique rather than presentation to make a true impression. Keep the deep-fat fryer nice and hot so that the ochre-hued sweet potato fries ($4) actually come out crisp and enjoyable, versus soggy and sad.

Keep a timer on the chicken breasts so that they retain their natural juices instead of letting them turn leathery. Also, the pasta ($10) could use some attention, lest the noodles turn into mush entangled with the roasted vegetables and the totally unnecessary balsamic glaze splattered, Jackson Pollock-style, across the plate.

What is Blue Lemon all about? It's a worthy attempt, where the food could use as much consideration as the interior design since, for now, its flavors are mostly unremarkable. But the scenery is beautiful.



Blue Lemon

Food • H

Mood • HHH

Service • HH

Noise • bb

A stylish scene for lighter entrées and sandwiches. Some diners might find the entrées bland, while others will enjoy mild, colorful dishes, such as artichoke and tomato chicken.

Location • 55 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City; 801-328-2583

Online •

Hours • Monday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $

Liquor • None

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • No

Credit cards • All major