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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

Some Seattle spots need to be avoided

Seattle is what drew me to the Northwest in the first place. I'd flown up in 1973 to meet my then-girlfriend, Lyn, who was working a summer job as a camp counselor on Orcas Island. I was living in San Diego at the time, and as a Navy brat I had lived all over the country — on the Texas Gulf, Tidewater Virginia, coastal Rhode Island, in two different parts of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. And other than Florida, the tip of New England and Alaska — places I've since experienced as an adult — I'd visited pretty much every other part of the U.S.

Except the Northwest. And if the view of all that green and the feel of that cool Puget Sound air didn't hit me when I first rode in on Greyhound, it certainly did as I flew in a small airplane to Orcas. I vowed that, one day, I would live in Seattle.

That never happened, and I don't regret it. Living in Spokane, which is far more inexpensive and manageable than anything in or around Seattle, is more to my liking. And besides, anytime I want to enjoy what Seattle has to offer, I just have to make the four-and-a-half-hour trek west. Instant gratification, and then I get to return home. And to sanity.

The question is, what does Seattle have to offer? For me, it's the opportunity to see first-run films that might never play a Spokane theater. It's the chance to see major-league baseball and NFL football. And it's the chance to eat at some world-class restaurants.

But it's not as if everything about our state's biggest city is great. A recent posting on Zagat makes this point well enough as it rates the “8 Most Overrated Seattle Food Icons.” If you've spent any time there, you've likely eaten at one or another.

See if you agree. Then think of your own choices and share them.

We'll start our own list of overrated Spokane eateries some other time.

These cookies will chase the clouds away

Above: New Zealand's Milford Sound is often shrouded in clouds.

As time goes on, I seem to develop more and more ties to New Zealand. My former Bloomberg Government colleague, Chelsea Stone, hails from there. Her sister, the food blogger Delaney Mes, lives in Auckland. And my friend and former Spokesman-Review colleague, Dan Mitchinson, recently moved to the southern tip of the South Island.

Maybe it's time to make a return trip myself.

Ah, but while I'm seeing if that can somehow be arranged while I'm still ambulatory, I want to share the latest post from Delaney Mes' blog, Heartbreak Pie. It's a cookie recipe that I'm going to squirrel away for a special weekend.

One that will see me munching on cookies as I dream again of, mmmm, Milford Sound.

Have a happy 4th at the cafe of your choice

What with temperatures predicted to be in the upper 80s, and even low 90s, for the holiday weekend, the street sign in front of Atticus says it all. As I write this, the U.S. team is tied 0-0 with Belgum in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. What a nice 238th birthday present that would make — a U.S. victory.

Not sure I have that much faith in American futbol.

Update: And the U.S. loses 2-1 in extra time. Better luck four years from now in Moscow.

You can’t miss with Clinkerdagger halibut cheeks

My wife receives e-mails on occasion from Clinkerdagger, the longtime, river-view eatery located in the Flour Mill. That happens when you sign up for the restaurant's Eat, Drink & Earn Club. And I'm so glad she did.

I used to go to Clinkerdagger regularly during the 1980s, when it was one of the few upscale dining choices Spokane had to offer. But with those choices having grown in recent years, I hadn't returned.

Until Friday when, following news included in an e-mail, we headed over to eat some Halibut Cheeks. What you see in the photo above is a split order, which fit our lunch appetites perfectly (I opened with a bowl of clam chowder, my wife a salad).

And what was our reaction? We almost ordered more.


My advice: Go get some while you can.

The Internet won’t always steer you correctly (duh)

In the early '90s, when I first started to visit New York on a more or less regular basis, I had a difficult time finding good coffee to drink. That was just about the time I was discovering what good coffee was, of course, it being a specialty of — forgive me for being something of a geographical snob here — the Pacific Northwest.

And Italy, too, but that's a whole other story.

In any event, when I began visiting friends who lived in Manhattan — near the south end of Central Park — I had to look around for something than diner coffee. And, usually, I had to give the servers — I won't even call them baristas — directions on how to fix what I wanted (few, if any, seemed to understand the concept of an americano).

Over the years, things changed. The coffee got better, my friends moved out of the City, but my daughter went off to attend Fordham University, and she never moved back to Spokane. So, since 1997, my visits have gotten even more regular. And these days, decent coffee is easy to find, as my most recent visit to Brooklyn has once again proven.

Today, after indulging in my regular morning stop at Red Lantern Bicycles (see below), I took a long walk in search of what I thought was a bookstore I had located through Yelp. Turns out the store no longer exists (to which my daughter said in response to my questioning text, “Yelp schmelp”), so after a 20-plus-block march, I stopped by Bittersweet, a teensy coffer shop located nearly kitty corner from Fort Greene Park. And never has $2.75 bought me a more rewarding brew.

Not that you'll ever have the need to act the tourist in this part of the world. But if you do, Bittersweet can provide caffeine charge that will make the difference in your day — even one that Yelp threatens to spoil.

Wander into the Wandering Table

Above: Serrano Pepper Chips and Braised Lamb Shortribs.

Say what you want about Facebook, it’s a good tool for discovering new places to enjoy locally. At least my Facebook setup does, mostly because I have FB friends who tend to get out and around the area.

I don’t usually follow the music suggestions. But I sometimes pay attention to the art/literary recommendations. And I usually read with interest anything having to do with food.

So the day after the local eatery Wandering Table opened last Friday, my wife Mary Pat, her college roommate Helen and I drove over to the Kendall Yards neighborhood to see if we could get a table.

And wonder of wonders, though we stepped through the doors just before 6 p.m., we scored. Without, I might add, a reservation.

We had to sit on one of the elevated table in the center of the room (on those kind of bar table that don’t have a backrest), but no matter. We tend to eat fast anyway.

Our friendly server informed us right away that we were about to experience a “tapas kind” of dining experience. The Wandering Table specializes in offering a number of different selections that are designed to be shared.

And here is what the three of us ordered (along with a flight of reds for my wife, and a glass of Wandering White for Helen):

  • —fresh oysters
  • —a garden salad
  • —Late Spring pea soup
  • —Serrano Pepper chips
  • —Chicken Fried Garbanzo Beans
  • —Braised shortribs
  • —small order (one pound) Applewood Chicken Wings

And to go:

  • —one Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Everything we ordered earned at least one thumbs up (except for the lamb shortribs), and the chips and chicken wings were unanimous hits. And the damage to our checkbook: $96.74 (before tip), which I'd expected to be far worse.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to walk right in as we did, so you might want to call ahead. But if there is a restaurant in Spokane that might be worth waiting for, the Wandering Table might be it.

P.S.: I can still taste those chicken wings.

Indaba: Coffee and books and comfort, oh my

I've found a new favorite coffee place. New for me, that is.

Some of my Facebook friends have been raving about Indaba Coffee Bar & Roastery for months. But it was only recently that I took the time to drop by. And to my delight, if not surprise, the folks there serve their own roasted coffee — of varying types — and it meets my every demand. Taste is paramount (though as someone who drinks regularly at Starbucks my abilities in that arena are questioned by many).

Also as important to me, though, are friendliness, competence and speed of delivery — all three of which have been completed in an expert manner during both visits I have made.

Yes, Indaba Coffee has been open since 2009 (as the barista told me this morning) at its site on Broadway Ave. a few blocks west of the County Courthouse. So, clearly I am somewhat late in getting the word, period, much less getting the word out. But they've been roasting their own coffee for the past year or so. Any anyway, this is a great place to visit, especially since it has no drive-through feature.

And why is that a good thing? Because it means that you have to actually go inside, which allows you to order something to eat. Or sip your coffee as you browse the shelves of the attached Book Parlor, which is one of my particular interests. On my first visit, I found almost immediately not one, not two but three books that I wanted to purchase (I ended up settling for a paperback edition of Ernest Cline's 2011 sci-fi/gamer novel “Ready Player One”).

Great books, a friendly atmosphere and tasty coffee. If heaven did exist, this would be it.

The Golden Trout is tasty at the Latah Bistro

So, you have two more nights to enjoy Spokane Restaurant Night. I wrote about eating at the MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill & Pub, which was a real hit (especially for $18 a plate). Tonight we hit the Latah Bistro, which was a full $10 more per plate but was worth every penny.

I've eaten at the Latah Bistro at least five times now, and I can't say that I've had a bad meal there. In fact, the last time I ate there — maybe six months ago — the halibut I ordered was probably the best prepared fish I've ever eaten.

Which was why, when ordering tonight's three-course meal, I opted for the Pan Seared Golden Trout (with sautéed winter greens, tomato confit and smoked bacon), which was preceded by Proscuitto and Pear Salad and followed by Pear and Honey Cake (complete with caramelized honey and butter cream). Let's just say that I wasn't disappointed.

My wife ordered the same dish, though her dessert was Chocolate Chili Muffins, which she covered with ample scoops of my butter cream.

Some 74 restaurants are participating in Restaurant Week. If the two meals that I have enjoyed as part of the event are any indication, any one of them should provide a decent meal. And you can't beat the prices.

Well, maybe you can at Taco Bell. But I don't think that establishment is part of Restaurant Week.

Another reason to like Spokane Restaurant Week

If you're out there enjoying Spokane Restaurant Week, you're not alone. My wife and I stopped by the MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill & Pub tonight, just before closing. And not only were we invited in, but we were served quickly, competently and the food … well, it was really good. It was our first time in the place, which sits in the spot once occupied by the lamentable Ciao Mambo.

We both ordered from the Restaurant Week — officially the Inlander Restaurant Week — menu, which offers a three-course meal for $18. I had Caesar salad, Lemon Chicken (over linguini instead of rice) and the apple cobbler, while my wife had a house salad, MacKenzie Meat Loaf and some sort of gooey chocolate cookie covered by two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

I couldn't finish all of my entree and took half home, though I did eat as much of the cobbler as I could without licking the dish. Maybe the next time I drop by, I won't be able to show so much self-restraint.

Did I say how much I love Restaurant Week?

This food blogger is following her passion

It's still a fairly tough economy out there, which makes the decision to quit a job even more difficult. But when you're young and have high hopes, you have to go where your interests carry you — even if it means giving up the security of a regular paycheck.

That's exactly what New Zealand food blogger Delaney Mes did recently. As this story explains, she gave up her day job as a lawyer to pursue food-blogging (and assorted catering/hosting duties) full time. I used to work with Delaney's sister Chelsea, who connected her with my wife and me a little more than a year ago when we stopped over in Auckland. Delaney hosted us to a tasty lunch in a trendy downtown restaurant.

So read about Delaney. Check out some of her recipes. And take heart in knowing that, yes, you can mix business and pleasure and still get by in your daily life. More than getting by, you may even bloom.

Luxe offers some of the best coffee in Spokane

Yesterday I posted about a breakfast my friend Jim and I enjoyed Saturday morning at the new eatery Yards Bruncheon. And I mentioned not caring for the coffee, though I quickly added that my liking of the service, the food and — most of all — the prices, would most likely cause me to give the place a second chance. Maybe even a third.

The taste of the coffee was not an issue this morning when I stopped by Luxe Coffee House, which sits on First Street, just south of the Fox Theater. I ordered my standard drink — a double, 16-ounce Americano with extra room (in which I place a dash of half-and-half) — and was rewarded with one of the best servings of coffee I have enjoyed in as long as I can remember.

Luxe, which is open Monday through Saturday (the hours vary, but it stays open until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday), offers the occasional entertainment event. And its menu includes wine and beer, too, and is a handy (if intimate) place to hang out before a show at either the Fox or the Bing Crosby Theater.

Oh, and did I mention the coffee? I'll be back. 

For a good, inexpensive breakfast, try Yards Bruncheon

My friend Jim and I were looking for a new place to have Saturday breakfast.

“I read about a new place in the paper,” he said. “Really?” I replied. “Where?” “Over at Kendall Yards,” he said. “Cool,” I said. “Let's check it out.”

So we did. We arrived at Yards Bruncheon about 8:20 a.m., and the place — open, airy and looking like someone's idea of a 1950s-era diner — was about half full. With no booths available, we took a table, checked out the menu — and almost immediately I was impressed by the prices, some $2 less per plate than any number of other Spokane breakfast spots I could name.

Though I found the coffee not to my taste (I've had the same problem with Central Food, which sits just up the street), our server was friendly and helpful. We ordered — both of us opted for the Petite Breakfast, which includes sausage or bacon, two eggs, hash browns and toast for $5.99 — and were impressed with how fast the food came And I was particularly impressed that our server was so willing to sub a bowl of fruit for my potatoes. (The Full Breakfast offers bacon AND sausage and runs $8.99.) 

By the time we left, every table had been taken. So it looks like, 1, the place is a hit and, 2, it's best to arrive early.

I'll certainly return. Maybe the coffee will grow on me. One can always hope.

For a morning change, try the Morty’s breakfast

See that photo above? That's what's left of my avocado and bacon omelet that I attempted to eat Saturday morning at Morty's Tap & Grille, which is located up on the South Hill just north of 57th and Regal. A real sports bar, Morty's had its multiple televisions blazing when we walked in the day before the Super Bowl. The atmosphere seemed a bit chilly, but that may have been because it was still early and the temperature outside was barely above freezing (and anyway, I could see a patio outside that likely will seem inviting come summer). Whatever, the service was friendly and prompt, substitutions (fruit instead of hashbrowns) were accepted with no hassle, and the portions were … well, I couldn't finish. So in addition to its regular menu, Morty's — you should know — offers a decent breakfast, too. And yes, the coffee, is drinkable.

Football or no, you have to eat, right?

Given the good weather out there this Wednesday morning — weather that, according to reports, is supposed to last through the weekend — you might be thinking of heading to Seattle on Friday. Maybe your intent is to catch a football game, either in person or in a tavern where pretty much everybody will be wearing Seahawks blue, green and silver.

Whatever your reason, if you go on thing is clear: You have to eat. I was over there last weekend, and here are some of the place that I hit for dinner:

Cafe Flora — Located in the Madison Valley neighborhood, Cafe Flora advertises itself as “Seattle's Best Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant.” Big words for a city that prides itself on having a number of veggie eateries, and a warning for those whose idea of eating includes only carnivore fare. My wife and I shared a kale and sundered-tomato pizza, which featured — of all things — a smattering of yam chips. We also shared, surprise, a salad.

Agradolce — Agradolce (ah-grah-DOLE-chay) is, according to Wordnik, a noun that signifies “a well-known Italian sauce used with venison, calf's head, etc. It contains sugar, chocolate, lemon-peel, currants, etc., and vinegar. It is poured over the cooked meat and served hot.” In any event, it's the name of a Fremont neighborhood restaurant that serves “organic Sicilian cuisine.” Four of us shared a round of appetizers, which included friend cardoon (a vegetable related to the artichoke), mussels and arugula and watercress salad. My wife's dish, which was a lamb shank and pasta concoction, was the dinner hit.

Mama Melina — Other than the fact that this place is as big as a warehouse, and I had to share a table with a gaggle of law professors, this Seattle institution — which is located in the University District — fed us well enough. I had fettuccini verdi, which was spinach pasta with a cream sausage sauce, and I almost licked the plate. But then I may just have been bored by all the talk of habeas corpus and such.

I also had a couple of decent breakfasts. But I'll save that for another post.


Coffee goes with anything at Junior’s in Brooklyn

I just returned from a two-week vacation, eight days of which were spent in Delhi, India (photos below). The rest was spent in New York, mostly in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, and finally in York, Pa.

It was in Brooklyn that we ran into a bit of New York history, which I read in a newspaper clipping tacked on the wall of Junior's, a restaurant that dates to 1950 (at least under that name). We ate twice at Junior's, which is famous for a cheesecake that is advertised as “The World's Most Fabulous Cheesecake.” As the New York Times reported in 1997, “One can now, for example, buy a slice in Southern California, in the cafes in Bloomingdale's new stores there and in Bloomingdale's throughout the Northeast.”

In fact, according the the clipping, the restaurant's trademark dessert is so popular that when the eatery caught fire in 1981, the New Yorkers who watched the firefighters chanted the following: “Save the cheesecake, save the cheesecake.”

Sounds like something out of a movie, right? Definitely a New York moment.

By the way, I'd have posted a picture of the cheesecake, but it disappeared before I could get my camera out. So you'll have to settle for the coffee I drank instead.

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