When Lomonico's opened in Pickerington a couple of years ago, it made a big splash in a small pool of locally owned restaurants with fine dining aspirations. So, when Lomonico's opened a Columbus branch last November in the emerging Downtown area often called the Discovery District, I was eager to dip in. Verdict after a few meals: If you don't plunge deep into the menu's pricier items, dinner can go swimmingly.

When Lomonico's opened in Pickerington a couple of years ago, it made a big splash in a small pool of locally owned restaurants with fine dining aspirations. So, when Lomonico's opened a Columbus branch last November in the emerging Downtown area often called the Discovery District, I was eager to dip in. Verdict after a few meals: If you don't plunge deep into the menu's pricier items, dinner can go swimmingly.

Lomonico's new space is modest-sized, spare and airy. Gray and white, brick and wood and understated appointments, such as overhead Edison bulbs, contribute to a warehouse-echoing design.

The wine selection isn't flashy, either. Most bottles on the serviceable list are $30 or under, and several glasses of popular pours clock in at $7: Monte Antico (a super Tuscan-style Italian red), Hans von Wilhelm piesporter (versatile German riesling) and Los Vascos rose (a tart Chilean made with cabernet sauvignon from a label partly owned by the Rothschilds, an exalted French winemaking family).

Lomonico's cuisine draws upon Italy and the American South for inspiration, and its starters are a highlight. For instance, the Flash-Fried Oysters ($10) - I got about a half-dozen - arrive with crisp and craggy, nearly grease-free cornmeal crusts and tender centers. On the side: "jalapeno-grapefruit aioli" and a contrasting, colorful salad of carrot sticks plus radish and cucumber discs.

The Sicilian Rice Balls ($11) exhibited more adept frying. Atop a bed of lightly dressed arugula are three golden-brown orbs with crunchy shells leading to the expected risotto interior punctuated with peas and bits of sausage. Rustic, rich and thick tomato sauce awaits on the side for dipping.

The tomato sauce also comes on top of the Meatballs ($9), an appetizer that's practically a meal. The acidic marinara plays off a stiff mound of polenta enriched with cream and cheese, and both flatter a fairly tender trio of good meatballs that use pork to lighten their beefy impact.

Two hefty salads could also double as dinner. Eggs (hard-cooked) and bacon (crisp crumbles), plenty of shredded cheddar, corn, spinach plus a peeled, seeded and roasted tomato slab combine with sweet house dressing to form the House Salad ($7). The easy-eating ensemble seems designed for people who don't normally like salads.

The spirited Charred Caesar ($7) is two large, criss-crossed stacks of smoky-grilled romaine hearts classically presented in whole leaves and with garlicky homemade croutons (they could've been toasted darker). It's adorned with a bold and creamy dressing with appealing accents of anchovy and lemon.

Four specialty pizzas are offered ($13-$15), and you can smell the wood-burning oven used to bake them. My half Roasted Vegetable (attractively concentrated - and not watery - red peppers, mushrooms and onions blotted with ricotta and topped with raw arugula after cooking) and half Classic Meat (fennel-seeded Italian sausage clumps, pepperoni, smoky bacon) was big and delicious. Next time, though, I'll ask that the thin and puffy-edged but too-floppy, crust be baked until crisp.

Based on a server's recommendation, I ordered the Pan-Seared Scallops entree. I enjoyed the flavors of the dish, but for $29, I wish there had been more detectable shellfish in the spinach-strewn, "sweet corn-crab risotto" and more than three lightly seared scallops. I'd also prefer the pleasant, semi-sweet and creamy beurre blanc sauce to be hotter than room temperature.

The substantial Mr. Jax Fried Chicken dinner ($15) is a better value. A thigh and partially deboned white meat quarter sporting an ungreasy, golden-brown crust and livening striations of honeyed Crystal hot sauce are partnered with honest mashed potatoes and a kicky corn maque choux. Like this restaurant, the meal isn't something to go out of your way for, but if you're in the area, it's a solid choice.