Nationally, the stock market continues to tank, gas prices are cresting $2 a gallon and consumer confidence is about as high as a wounded kite on a windless day.

But don't tell local restaurateurs that the economy is in a tailspin. At a time when the smart move might be to bury excess cash in a sock in the backyard, folks are investing in new eateries. And this region's restaurant resurgence continues to gain steam, with a new pizza place in Long Beach, Wash. and a Chinese restaurant in Seaside. Both are worth sampling, and both bear watching.

Bluto's Pizza614 S. Pacific Highway, Long Beach, Wash.; (360) 642-7558; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday -Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday Bruce "Bluto" Bailey, a large and gregarious fellow, hails from Philadelphia. Which helps to explain why he can pick up a wad of dough, pound it, twirl it and toss it 'till it's flat and round, coat it with a zesty sauce, cheeses and toppings, then bake it for 15 minutes and - momma mia! - end up with a thin-crusted East Coast-style pizza ($8.25 to $18.75).

Is Bailey a magician? You bet. On the side, he's the Great Mystico. Ask him to entertain you with a card trick or other sleight of hand while your pizza is baking. Bailey calls his pies "old world style," and I suppose that's an apt moniker if "old world" means Philly during the past century.

Bailey does make his dough and crafts his crust the old-fashioned way, then slathers on a well-seasoned sauce. The finished product, garnished with any of the usual toppings, is top-drawer, save for the canned mushrooms. Surely using the latter approaches a travesty on the Long Beach Peninsula, one of the world's foremost gardens of wild fungi. Of note is Bluto's pizza slice, here a hefty quarter pie that's a steal for $2.50.

"Want pineapple on your Garden Veggie pizza?" an assistant inquired before Bailey slid mine into the oven. Noticing my look of incredulity, he added: "Well, some people around here like it that way." Not me; save that diced pineapple for an upside-down cake.

Calzones ($3.75 to $6.75) are sizable pockets of pizza sauce and fixings that compose a concoction relatively unknown outside the East until the late 1980s. National popularity arrived via that all-American culinary mainstay - mall food courts. At Bluto's calzones are thin, foot-long beauts, kind of like two slices of pizza folded over with the saucy side facing inward. Instead of toppings, you choose fillings, and the selection's the same. So is the crust, baked just right to a golden hue.

No Philly cheese steaks are served here, but meatball sandwiches ($4.95) evoke Eastern Seaboard memories, at least for me. Still these "grinders" - Philly speak for herculean sandwiches - are less than heroic. A slew of small, run-of-the-mill meatballs comes packed inside a passable hoagie roll. And the sauce doesn't taste as exciting as what goes on the pizzas or inside the calzones.

A month old, Bluto's occupies a storefront (that was home to a couple of previous pizzerias) along downtown Long Beach's main drag. Inside are a few tables; an American flag is one of the few wall hangings. No worries, the real art here is what comes out of Bailey's oven.

Silver Dragon1 N. Holladay St., Seaside; (503) 738-6688; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday - Friday; Noon to 9 p.m., Saturday and SundayA furniture store, a clothing outlet, even a dance club - the space occupying the corner of Broadway and Holladay has seen a lot of incarnations. Now Seasiders are welcoming a Chinese restaurant, and many are hoping for food beyond the Cantonese-American fare so prevalent in this region.

A couple of visits to the two-week-old Silver Dragon have garnered mostly favorable reviews and a few raves. The routine is familiar: Peruse a menu with a gazillion possibilities, then settle for a combo plate or get adventurous and take a shot at ordering something that sounds alluring (servers who claim everything is "wonderful" aren't much help).

During our visits, we opted for a chef's specialty Triple Crown ($9.50), a chicken and asparagus platter ($8.95) from the specials board and a dish of Szechwan mixed vegetables ($6.95).

The Triple Crown boasted a white-wine sauce that turned out to be unremarkable. Shrimp and scallops spent too long in the stir-fry, and veggies were garden-variety. The consensus: Much as we appreciate pea pods, sliced water chestnuts, baby corn cobs and serrated carrot slices, please give us something that's not Chinese formula food.

And we got it with a sizzling chicken-asparagus special bathed in a splendid black bean sauce redolent of garlic, onions and spices. We couldn't finish the ample slices of fowl and crispy asparagus spears. Ditto for the mixed-veggie plate recommended by our waitress. Szechwan-style generally means at least medium heat, and this stir-fry didn't disappoint, flavored, presumably, with Szechwan berries. These distinctive "peppers" resemble black peppercorns and infuse food with a tantalizing flavor, in this case simultaneously spicy and sweet - the latter essence thanks to what, we weren't certain.

Silver Dragon servers are pleasant. Portions are prodigious, and food arrives quickly. Everything we ordered was handsomely plated, a skill seemingly inherent in Chinese cookery.

This is one big honkin' layout, with rows of tables and not much else. Perhaps some large potted plants would break up the lost-in-space feel. When the dining room has a meager clientele, it's akin to, well, a former dance hall sans the hoopla. Conversely, when crowded, the Silver Dragon is going to be vibrant, even boisterous and a fine place to enjoy chicken and asparagus in a black bean sauce.

Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail

TidbitsLauren Arena, the well-liked owner-chef at Astoria's Someplace Else who died unexpectedly in January, dedicated her life to her customers, her restaurant and wildlife. Her cause of choice was the Wildlife Rehab Center of the North Coast, located in Olney about nine miles east of Astoria. To honor Arena, the owners of Astoria's T. Paul's Urban Cafe, Chadd-Paul Flues ll and Teona Dawson, are hosting a memorial fund-raiser Saturday, April 5. All proceeds will benefit the Wildlife Center. For more information about "One Woman, Her Cause," call (503) 338-5133.

The Stephanie Inn in Cannon Beach will host the Silver Lake Winemakers dinner on Sunday. Executive Chef John Newman promises courses featuring a prawn margarita, a mixed green and citrus salad dressed with a champagne vinaigrette, a cardamon-pear sorbet intermezzo, beef tenderloin in a cabernet sauce and apricot cheesecake with a white-chocolate ganache. Five Silver Lake wines will be poured. Cost is $79.95 per person, and reservations are required. Call (503) 436-2221 or (800) 633-3466 for more information.


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