Eden's Lounge is much better known as a nightclub, lounge and all-around posh gathering spot than as a restaurant. In a city where sexy, upscale clubs seem to come and go, Eden's Lounge has maintained. It's an especially beautiful club, too, making wonderful use of an old building's good bones (the Eager House used to be here) with an interlocking series of sumptuously exotic rooms, each offering different levels of cushiness and comfort. It's a club worth dressing up for, and on its Web site, Eden's Lounge tells its customers they had better do just that - "sophisticated and stylish dress a must."

The only downside is that Eden's Lounge's late-night dazzle somewhat eclipses its potential as a dining destination. There really is a kitchen here, and a pretty talented one, too.

The menu is smallish, about five appetizers, six entrees and four "bar bites," but it's a well-balanced menu, with a little bit of everything - a chicken with pesto, a baked tilapia, a lamb chop, a crab cake.

Helen Metaferia, who co-owns Eden's Lounge with her husband, Harold Edwards, is from Ethiopia, and there is a scattering of Ethiopian dishes: a spring roll, a tibs dinner and baby lamb chops seasoned with Ethiopian spices. They are the thing to get here. Just a few blocks away, Dukem serves a full menu of zesty, home-style Ethiopian food in cheerful, colorful rooms. Eden's Lounge gives them an upscale twist, most notably doing away with the fermented injera, the bread that diners use to pick up food. In its place are slices of seasoned pita.

Think of tibs as sauteed meat, with tomatoes, peppers and onions, accompanied by little sides of black lentils, red lentils and braised cabbage. Two things make Ethiopian food alluring: the peppery and aromatic berbere spices and the clarified butter. These were very present in the tibs dinner, and in delectable fillings of the crispy spring rolls. They taste rich, and it feels like time has been lavished on their flavors. The spring rolls come with a perfectly dressed little salad of dark greens, quartered cherry tomatoes and pretty slivers of onion and green peppers.

A mango shrimp entree succeeds, too, simply by using fresh-tasting and firm shrimp, and by pulling in the sweetness of the mango puree so that it was fruity but not gacky sweet. But then, with the New Zealand baby lamb chops, another pretty dish, with a bundle of goat cheese-rubbed asparagus, came a moment of weirdness. Two sauces, one dark brown, one light, not mentioned on the menu, are drizzled for dipping on the plate. The dark sauce I'm ready to swear was A1.

This gaffe aside, there are a couple of other things that make you feel that its menu isn't the first thing on Eden's Lounge's mind. The room used for the dining room seems like it would rather be a dance lounge. For one thing, it's too dark for diners to really appreciate how pretty the food is. Also, it's loud, not with other diners (there weren't any) but with clubby music. With other rooms available, and with dining hours that go only until 10 p.m., you kind of wish that Eden's Lounge would preserve one room for quieter dining. Either that or go with tapas that would allow diners to nibble comfortably in every room. A bygone menu at Eden's Lounge did try to work the small plates; maybe it was unwieldy. It's really just that the food deserves a better showcase than it's now being given.

A word of caution: A notice on the menu (that I overlooked) says that "all parties are subject to a 20-percent gratuity." I missed it on the check, too, but that was my fault for rushing - it was clearly marked. Still, I ended up double-tipping, a not-cool thing to happen at a very cool place.

eden's lounge
Where: 15 W. Eager St.

Call: 410-244-0405

Dining hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-

Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, Amex

Appetizers: $5-$12

Entrees: $12-$18

Food: ***

Ambience: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

on the menu
•Ethiopian spring roll, with beef - $7

•Mango shrimp - $12

•Baby lamb chop dinner - $18

•Eden's veggie plate - $12

•Ethiopian tibs dinner - $14