October 13, 1999, Wednesday
Dining In, Dining Out/Style Desk
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$25 AND UNDER; A Touch of Scandinavia Near the Edge of Chinatown

By Eric Asimov

IF for no other reason, Good World Bar and Grill beckons because it's a bar in an old barbershop near Chinatown that serves Scandinavian food. In this increasingly franchised world, stumbling onto such an unpredictable collision of ethnicities and milieus feels like a victory for the forces of independence over the army of central control.

Unless you ask for a menu, though, you'd never realize that Good World served food. In fact, the shabby sign out front reading ''Good World Barber Shop,'' with Chinese characters underneath, would draw only those looking for a bad haircut. Stepping in, though, you see a big bar and a blackboard listing dozens of beers. Rickety tables are scattered around the worn wood floor, and the room is smoky, which may be why the mottled yellow walls resemble used cigarette filters. Only a huge head of a caribou, mounted over the bar, leads you to suspect that something's offbeat about Good World.

But then, if a menu does find its way into your hands, you immediately notice words like ''herring,'' ''sardines'' and ''skagen,'' and ''lingonberry sauce'' is everywhere.

Good World was opened in May by Annika Sundvik, originally of Sweden; her husband, John Lavelle, and a third partner, Graham Short. They had been looking for a place on the Lower East Side when they found this spot, which the police had closed because of a problem with massage booths, presumably not Swedish.

The menu is made up mostly of appetizers and slightly larger dishes, with a few main courses thrown in. It's not entirely Scandinavian, but the lack of rigor reflects the laid-back spirit of the place, with its spacey service but appealing downtown ambiance.

Skagen ($6) is shrimp with creme fraiche and dill, served on toast. It's pretty good, a nice prelude for the exceptionally tender and tasty sauteed squid ($5), flavored with lemon, parsley and lots of black pepper. Briny grilled sardines ($6) are delicious, while fish soup ($8) is fabulous, a bisque that tastes like the essence of the sea, made with sour cream and onions and full of shrimp and mussels.

As good as these dishes were, though, the kitchen can also be as unpredictable as the North Sea weather. Swedish meatballs ($6) are, I suppose, necessary in a Scandinavian bar, and on one occasion they were moist and appealing, especially when dipped into the accompanying sweet lingonberry sauce. Another time, though, they were a school cafeteria nightmare, as dry as old pencil erasers. The first time I tried the potato pancakes ($10), which are served with smoked bacon and yet more lingonberry sauce, they were dry and crumbly. Another time, they were crisp and savory.

Good World is on far firmer ground with seafood dishes, like an offering of three kinds of herring ($10). With herring pickled in vinegar and dill, mustard herring and salty matjes, it's like the opening course of a smorgasbord. Crab cakes ($14) served with house-made tartar sauce were meaty and enticing, too. But grilled lamb chops ($16) were first served practically raw and, after we sent them back, returned tough and unappetizing.

Desserts don't even pretend to be Scandinavian, except the -- what else? -- lingonberry sauce poured over the ice cream ($4). But I'll take that luscious three-berry pie, with its crisp crust, any place I can get it.

Right now, Good World is more bar than grill. As a restaurant, it's unpolished. Yet, it offers a spirit of adventure, a departure from the routine, that makes Good World's world a good world indeed.

Good World Bar and Grill
3 Orchard Street (Division Street), Lower East Side; (212) 925-9975.

BEST DISHES: Skagen, sauteed squid, grilled sardines, fish soup, three kinds of herring, crab cakes, three-berry pie.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $3 to $6; medium and large plates, $8 to $16.
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.
HOURS: Monday through Friday, 4 P.M. to 4 A.M.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 A.M.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Everything is on one level.