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Latin America, Classico and Nuevo

Published: November 16, 2005

Living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, for more than a decade, Vivian Torres felt she had no choice but to open a restaurant.

Ms. Torres and Pedro Muñoz, her fiancé, responded by opening the pan-Latin bistro Luz four months ago.

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Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times

Luz, in Fort Greene, attracts a neighborhood crowd and students too.

The couple, who met while studying architecture at the Pratt Institute, had been regulars at Ola, one of Douglas Rodriguez's nuevo Latino spots. They liked Ola's style and its staff. Their friend and former Pratt classmate Antonio Lara tended bar, and it was at the bar there that they got to talking about opening a new restaurant in their neighborhood. When Ola closed last fall, talk turned to action, and Luz was born.

The couple designed the space; it is minimal without being cold or inhospitable. A banquette lines the right wall and the rear wall is partially cut away to reveal the kitchen. The bar dominates the front left part of the room.

Weekends are busy at Luz and while waiting at the bar for a table, snippets of conversations revealed the restaurant's diversity: Pratt shoptalk, hip-hop patois, neighborhood folks speaking Spanish or Caribbean-inflected French.

The bar is never empty. Mr. Lara's cocktails - a couple of classics, a few clever new drinks, all at agreeable prices ($6 to $7) - always draw a crowd. They were too sweet for my taste, though the mojito and caipirinha are diligently executed.

Ms. Torres is from Puerto Rico and Mr. Muñoz is Mexican. Their menu darts among Latin American cuisines and between old-school staples and nuevo Latino flourishes. In the more reserved camp there is an arepa ($8), a trio of empanadas ($10) and, judging from an informal survey of the dining room, what must be Luz's most popular dish: a gigantic Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken for $10. Add a couple of sides ($4 each) like black beans and rice or a heaping helping of maduros (plantains), and two or three hungry art students could eat for $18 total. Not bad.

It might be better to cobble together a meal from appetizers and ceviches, the best of which is coco tuna ($13), raw tuna tossed with coconut milk enlivened with lemongrass, ginger and jalapeño. Pinchos de res ($11), grilled cubes of tenderloin served with a mojo and a chimichurri, is good eating as well (though the beef seemed too flavorful to be tenderloin). The vatapa, a coconut-milk-based stew loaded with shellfish and vegetables, is as good an $11 seafood soup as one could hope for.

Costillas a la brava ($10), pork spare ribs with a not-too-fruity mango sauce, were gargantuan and gamy one night and smaller, more tender and irresistible the next. Next time I'd order them as an entree, with one of the $4 sides.

Which is not to take anything from the main courses. The lone vegetarian option, pepian de quinoa ($14), is worthwhile. A collard green-wrapped pilaf of quinoa dotted with nuts and vegetables is baked and served in the center of a rectangular plate, flanked by a corn salsa. A serving of mojo-basted lechon asado ($14), Cuban-style roast pig, comes with maduros and rice laced with peas. It's large enough for two.

Some of the more adventurous and more expensive entrees (a Chilean sea bass dish is $22, which may be a small price for a near-endangered animal) are less assured, though nothing was bad.

That might be because Luz, even when it pushes its boundaries, rarely oversteps them. It's a neighborhood place through and through. Servers couldn't be more ready to help, and despite the hip, modern space, it doesn't seem as if it's aching to get into the Manhattan restaurant melee. It has modest ambitions that it regularly surpasses. That may mean that Pratt students will have to find something new to carp about, other than a lack of hangouts in Fort Greene.

Luz

177 Vanderbilt Avenue (Myrtle Avenue), Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (718) 246-4000.

BEST DISHES Coco tuna ceviche; pinchos de res; pork spare ribs; lechon asado.

PRICE RANGE Soups, salads, appetizers and ceviches, $6 to $13; sides, $4; entrees, $14 to $22.

CREDIT CARDS All major cards.

HOURS 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 5:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday. Brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS All on one level.

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