Limelight

107 Loudoun St. SW

Leesburg

(703) 777-7492

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Dinner, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

Prices: Lunch, $3.75 to $9.75. Dinner appetizers, $4 to $6.75 and entrees $13.50 to $23.50.

All major credit cards accepted.

No nonsmoking area.

Weekend dinner reservations suggested.

Some restaurants are designed to be unpretentious, neighborly places where the food is as comfortable and familiar as an old easy chair. But at Limelight, part-owner and chef George Vetsch's dishes make you sit up and take notice because of their artistry and creativity.

The surroundings are equally distinctive. Before entering the side door of this converted house, you pass through a lovely, arbor-enclosed patio. Here, wrought-iron tables provide a charming outdoor dining space.

Inside, the mood is more formal and intimate, colored in pale peach and gray with indirect lighting that shows off the Art Deco architectural accent, especially a dramatic circle on the ceiling that sweeps around the restaurant and is completed outside in the trelliswork.

The eclectic menu, a combination of the chef's classical French training and the provocative use of a wide variety of ingredients and seasonings, changes according to market availability and chef Vetsch's predilections.

The staff will give you a brief explanation of the terms and preparations on the menu: scamorza is smoked mozzerella; focaccia is a seasoned Italian flat bread served here with pizza-like toppings, and the chips that garnish the grilled duck are fashioned from sweet potatoes and turnips.

If, after a run-through of these semi-exotic creations, the staff members detect perplexed bewilderment instead of interest on the part of the diner, they are instructed to mention that a sirloin steak is also available.

The lunch fare tends to be the best value, with most dishes between $6 and $8; at dinner, prices step up to the $14 to $20 range.

Some of the dishes were vividly successful.

At lunch, the Tuscan-style grilled vegetable salad, for example, was the perfect choice for a breezy summer afternoon on the patio.

Slices of zucchini, red and yellow peppers, and especially the baby eggplant had their flavors wonderfully intensified by the grill. A sprinkling of the shredded aged cheese, asiago, and a sweet vinaigrette were pleasing additions.

At dinner, I savored an inspired combination of creamy white corn bisque decorated with pureed red pepppers and garnished with grilled shrimp marinated in a sweet pickled brine. Another starter, the mix of eggplant, mushrooms, mozzerella and tomatoes, smoothed with olive oil and pungent with basil, was also a hit.

The most expensive entree at $23.50, the rack of lamb, while not spectacular, was still quite good and artfully presented with three rosy medallions centered on the plate over a bed of tiny French lentils accented with fresh dates.

The lamb had an edge of sweet crustiness that played well off both the tender meaty interior and the North African seasoning of cinnamon, cumin and hot peppers in the lentils.

Although the toppings of shrimp, onions, sweet peppers and mushrooms were fine and the deep-edged crust was satisfyingly crunchy, the strong flavor of the asiago cheese tends to predominate on the focaccia, one of the least expensive dinner entrees at $13.95.

Some dishes missed by a little. At lunch, the perfectly cooked rockfish was seasoned with too much saffron, and the duck in phyllo pastry was overwhelmed by a strong chevre cheese.

For dessert I would choose the chocolate mousse cake with raspberry sauce and whipped cream or fresh berries.