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A love of the sea shows, on both menu and walls

First things first. Yes, blu has an oxygen bar.

For $10, patrons can belly up to the little bottles of air, stick a small two-pronged plastic tube in their nostrils, and enjoy a 12-minute dose of 94 percent pure oxygen.

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Some say the scented air clears the mind after the 21 percent stuff we normally breathe, while others say oxygen bars are unhealthy or don't work.

Whatever your views on oxygen bars, there are plenty of other reasons to come to blu.

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Owners Dean Barillaro and Pat Vancura are scuba divers, and blu reflects that. The boldly flavored Caribbean and Creole dishes are the kind of food they like to eat after a long day in the water, Barillaro says, and the restaurant's blue walls (and name) reflect a love of the sea.

Even the oxygen bar makes perfect sense for people who spend significant time underwater, breathing with air tanks.

But this is trendy Canton, after all, not some remote island beach, and the food and drinks reflect an urban sensibility too. The bar serves up flavored martinis (and I use the term loosely) and other colorful and potent drinks, while the taps dispense what Barillaro claims is the coldest beer in town.

But it's the food that makes blu such a breath of fresh air. The first sign of good things to come was the plate of warm, chewy, tangy rolls that arrived moments after we sat down.

From there, we progressed to an olive bruschetta appetizer that was a nice mix of salty black and green olives, served on crisp, buttery rounds of toast. The Maryland crab soup was a sassy rendition, with lots of veggies and bits of seafood in a hot-enough-to-make-your-eyes-water tomato base. And the fried calamari was tender and delicious, the generous portion of rings and tentacles dusted with a crunchy, grease-free batter.

For main courses, the boursin-stuffed filet mignon was a must-have, even at $21.99. The meat was tender and juicy on the inside, with a slight flavorful char on the outside. It was served with garlic mashed potatoes that had been pummeled to a creamy, lumpy mess with the red skins still on, and broccoli and carrots that had been cooked to tender-firm.

Also outstanding was a dish called court bouillon, a garlicky tomato-based Creole stew of shrimp, clams, tiny sweet crawfish and other seafood, served over rice.

The Rasta island chicken was sunshine on a plate, with a cool salsa of mango and other tropical fruits countering the heat of the spiced chicken breasts. This, too, was served with the excellent side dishes. The only odd note was that sliced scallions served as a garnish on nearly every dish and appetizer. No big deal, but certainly not necessary.

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All this yummy food was delivered by a cheerful, funny server who didn't stint on the patter, even though she was losing her voice.

Desserts were from a company called Bindi, which provides its own menu stuffed with sumptuous-looking photographs. I've had stuff from them before, and it's never quite as good as it looks in the pictures. This time was no exception. The Key lime cheesecake was on the dry side, and the frutti di bosco had a nice shortbread crust but flavorless berries on top of it. The lemon gelato ball had an artificial flavor.

Clearly, Bindi could take a few lessons from blu in how to serve up dishes with flavor and flair.

blu

Where: 834 S. Luzerne Ave., Canton

Call : 410-276-7100

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Open: Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, dinner on Sunday, with Sunday brunch in the future

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $4.99 to $7.99; entrees $12.99 to $21.99

Food: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: *** 1/2


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