One recent dining trend around town that's most welcome is the spate of new restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan fare that's creative: Tree House is one such eatery, which opened last year in the South Grand neighborhood.

Tree House has an interior that’s light and airy, thanks to the tall ceilings and minimal décor; not to mention the plethora of windows, which provide some fine South Grand people-watching opportunities.

There's a solid list of of original cocktails at Tree House, and during our visit we tried out a couple: the Tree House Almond Milk Punch ($7) and The Roots ($8). Of the two, the milk punch stood out. It was a subtly sweet concoction consisting of white rum, almond milk, cardamom and passion fruit. We chose The Roots as it's based on aquavit, one of our favorite spirits that's often overlooked on local drink menus. However, the pepperiness of the aquavit, along with the smooth sweetness of the Big O ginger liqueur that's part of the mix, was completely overwhelmed by the beet syrup and the vegetal bitterness of the Italian amaro Cynar also used in the drink.

The Tree House food menu runs the gamut of influences, from Asian to Latin to American and then some. The takes on south-of-the-border cuisine were the most successful. Both the Chile Relleno ($8) and the Chorizo Tamale ($11) were delicious plant-based versions of these favorites. The tamale came with a complex black-bean mole that nicely complemented the tender corn fritter and the tart pickled cabbage slaw alongside. The chile relleno is based around a perfectly cooked poblano chile, coated in Panko bread crumbs and topped with plenty of melty chihuahua cheese and some salsa sofrito, a sweet and spicy pepper sauce.

Less successful were the Asian- and American-based creations we tasted. The Raw Noodle Bowl ($11), was chock-full of mung bean noodles and raw veggies and came with a choice of three sauces: coconut red curry, Kafir lime peanut or sweet chili vinaigrette. We opted for the coconut red curry, but found it lacking in spice and overall flavor. The Tree House Sliders ($6) were filled with mushrooms--always a good thing--but the delicious fungi were sandwiched between tiny pieces of toast, which crumbled and fell apart as soon as we attempted to eat them. Plain ol' bread would've been a better choice.

Service was hit-or-miss during our visit. While the dining room was only partially filled, it took an inordinately long time for our orders to be taken and for drinks to make it to the table, though our server was pleasant and apologetic for the wait on both counts.

With a little tightening up, Tree House definitely has the potential to be a player in the vibrant and varied culinary scene on South Grand and the city at large.

-- 3177 South Grand Blvd., 696-2100,

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