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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

Invitation to tea at Silver Spoon Tea House

The timing for tea could not have been better.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making may way through a Sullivan Entertainment re-watch of its most noteworthy television productions, the 1985 adaptation of “Anne of Green Gables” and its 1987 sequel, and the spin-off series, “Road to Avonlea.”  

My older sister and I just about wore out the VHS tapes used to record the series during our annual free trial of The Disney Channel in the mid-90s (which might be the most mid-90s sentence I’ve ever written), and I’ve been happily borrowing the DVDs from Spokane Public Library, now that VHS and VCRs are virtually obsolete.

By happenstance, my sister invited me and our mother to tea time at Silver Spoon Tea House, along with a friend and her family this past weekend. In the Queen Anne-style mansion on the lower South Hill, we enjoyed fresh blueberry scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, savory soups and crepes and a tower of tasty finger sandwiches, decadent desserts and fresh fruit. Anne Shirley herself could not have imagined a more elegant spread.

Assortment of sandwiches, dessert and fruit at Silver Spoon Tea House.

Our group also enjoyed six pots of tea, served in painted rose china, of course. With a 3-page tea menu, we had difficulty choosing, but were delighted by the variety from traditional Darjeeling to a literal Garden Basket tea with fragrant fruits and flowers.

While I'll never give up my 21st-century “girls' nights” with craft beer or cocktails, an afternoon escape into the pomp and circumstance of high tea is a fun retreat from the bustle of the modern grind.

MOD Pizza: Quick and tasty downtown

The location that sits at 707 W. Main has seen a lot of changes over the years. It used to be the site of Madeleine's Cafe & Patisserie. Before that it was the chain Italian eatery Cucina! Cucina! And many of us remember when the whole building was part of The Crescent department store, which used to be my favorite downtown lunch spot.

Now the corner spot at Main and Wall is filled by MOD Pizza, a fast-food version of a pizza place that can — depending on how crowded the place is — have you munching on your order almost before you sit down (only a slight exaggeration).

I went there with my brother on Friday night and followed his lead: You step up to the counter, decide the kind of pizza you want (pictures of the special types are on the wall), add in a salad (if needed) and drinks. Then you pay and, barely minutes later, hear your name announced as your order is ready.

How do the pizzas arrive so fast? Here's what you'll find on the FAQ section of the establishment's website: "Our ovens are super hot! Our 800 degree ovens are gas fired and cook your pizza in less than 3 minutes. Pizzas are made by hand and handled by artisan pizza bakers – no conveyer belts here!"

Above is what I ordered: a Mad Dog (pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, ground beef and red sauce), a Caesar salad and a draft No-Li.

Spokane is blessed to have a lot of decent pizza spots, which is something it's long needed since the days of the old Crescent. In those days, the only pizza you could find was something from a chain business. It's always nice to have choices.

For a taste of Brazil, try River Park Square

My brother loves his hamburgers. So he was disappointed when River Park Square's food court closed its hamburger place (once D'Lish's Hamburgers, then Cruiser's Burgers & More).

But then, after going to see later-morning screening of Michael Moore's new documentary "Who to Invade Next," we stopped at the Rio Grill Brazilian Express. Those are the the plates of food that my wife and I ordered: a bed of salad with meat (I had the mixed grill) and condiments (including a slice of pineapple) piled on top.

We've dined in Brazil, both in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paolo (and one night we stopped at Coeur d'Alene's Grille from Ipanema). And while neither my wife nor I claim to be anything close to expert about Brazilian cuisine, we did enjoy the change of pace from old-school pizza, fast-food Asian and Mexican and Subway sandwiches that the food court otherwise offers.

Yeah, it was a bit pricey (mine was the most expensive, at $9.95). But you have less expensive choices, and you can ask for something other than a bed of salad (rice and beans, for example). So give it a try.

You can always find a tasty hamburger. But finding a taste of Brazil, at least in Spokane, is rare. 

For a post-movie meal, try Twigs

You'll find several Twigs locations around Spokane, from the South Hill to Wandermere. But the spot I ate at Saturday afternoon was the most convenient for a post-movie brunch: River Park Square. (We saw the new Coen brothers movie, "Hail, Caesar!").

Many of the photos that I see taken of the newly renovated eatery involve shots from the balcony seats that overlook the mall's foyer (those afraid of heights should avoid them). But as you can see, I opted to highlight the fiery display that greets diners when they queue up for seats.

Oh, and my chicken caprese sandwich was a bit sloppy, forcing me to eat it with a knife and fork. But it tasted good.

And I didn't look down.

What makes a good meal? Good service

Let me know if this has ever happened to you in a restaurant:

You enter with another couple, sit, have drinks, appetizers and spark up a pleasant relationship with your young server. (The other couple has been here before, so that makes things flow more smoothly.)

You order your entrees. One of you orders something that seems familiar, though it becomes clear that everything on this menu represents the chef’s personal take on the dish that’s offered. Which in three of the four cases tonight works out well.

But that fourth dish … well, it’s just not what anyone at the table was expecting. Moreover, it’s nothing anyone likes.

So when the server returns and delivers the obligatory line – “How is everything?” – we are honest. We say that three of the plates are good, superb actually, but that the fourth just doesn’t meet our expectations.

Here is what I’ve experienced in Spokane and most everywhere else:

1, the server says, “I’m sorry.” And walks away.

2, the server says, “I’m sorry.” And asks if you want something else.

3, the server says, “I’m sorry.” And offers you a free dessert.

4, the server gets the chef, who argues with you, making you feel as if you’re an ignorant clown. (This actually happened to my wife in a now-defunct Spokane eatery.)

Here’s what happened to us the other night at an Italian restaurant called Tutoni’s in York, Pa., where my in-laws live. One of us had ordered gnocchi, which turned out to be a seared version of the dish that none of us cared for.

We mentioned this and the server said that she was sorry. Then she offered to replace it with something else (we had plenty of food to share and said no). She left, only to come back saying that the chef insisted that he prepare us something else (we again declined, but thanked her profusely).

Then the owner dropped by and explained the chef’s take on the dish, what he was attempting to do, listened to our reactions and thanked us for the feedback. And never once was she defensive or did she attempt to make us feel uncomfortable.

Finally, the server did not charge us for the offending meal.

Folks, that is what I call good restaurant service. And that’s a place that deserves a return visit.

Sushi, beer and bibimbap warm up a wet evening

It was a rainy, chilly evening last week — one that was calling out "sushi." So we went to eat at Sushi Yama, the Japanese and Korean restaurant that sits on the site of the old Arctic Circle hamburger place.

Spokane has a number of decent sushi spots. But it's hard to beat Sushi Yama, which features the hand-made dishes of owner Charlie Yang. Long-time patrons let Yang decide what they should order. But that night we opted for convenience and economy: My wife and brother order mixed-sushi (both featuring California rolls), and I ordered what I normally do: bibimbap, the Korean rice dish that comes with a range of options, from veggies and tofu to various meats (this time I opted for beef).

And my brother added as an appetizer one of the daily specials: fresh oysters.

The dishes came out at different times (I was halfway done with my bibimbap before the others received their sushi plates), and we had to ask more than once for other dishes or implements we wanted (seaweed salad for me, a fork for my brother). But no one was pushing us, and we had plenty of time to drink (I had a large Cass beer) and talk.

Besides, everything arrived eventually, and it was as tasty as usual. Which made it a lot easier to head back out into the dark and wet.

Chef’s Table: Expensive but tasty

I already posted about attending the Chinese Lantern Festival week before last. My wife and I went with a pair of young Chinese women, students attending classes at Gonzaga Law School. And I wrote a bit disparagingly about the food (mainly the rice, which by the time it reached our table, was cold and hard).

Well, that didn't stop my wife from purchasing tickets to Saturday night's Chef's Table, which gave us the opportunity to sit nearer the kitchen at a u-shaped table with a number of others to dine in a more formal (and, at $100 a head, expensive) manner. And the result was far better.

Served in multiple courses, the Sichuan Region-based meal — comprising, after a spoon-size appetizer, Kung Pao Chicken, Don Don Noodle, Tea Smoked Duck and Sichuan Moon Cake — arrived at a leisurely pace, with each receiving a lengthy explanation by our friendly server. Each course was relatively small, certainly smaller than you would expect at your average Chinese restaurant. But the totality was just right.

The whole meal was designed and overseen by chef Jeremy Hansen, of Santé Restaurant & Charcuterie. And Hansen came by to explain the whys and wherefores of his kitchen. If I were more of a foodie, like my friend Leslie Kelly, I might have been in heaven.

As it was, I was just full. And content.

The festival was supposed to close Nov. 1. But it's been extended two weeks, though Nov. 15. Make reservations as soon as possible, though. And bring a jacket: Fall is here, and it's getting cold.

Sundae Funday

Awareness of gluten-related disorders is much more common these days, so several Pig Out vendors are providing “gluten-free” options. But, unless you have a gluten sensitivity, don’t mistake gluten-free for healthy.

Take, for example, my Thursday afternoon bite at Shiznits. Their $8 entrée options include essentially the same ingredients—shredded beef, pork and/or chicken or a beer brat topped with grilled bell peppers, onions and garlic, cheese and/or honey barbeque sauce and jalapeno bacon—on a sandwich roll or gluten-free mashed potatoes.

Nothing about that could be considered healthy, but I couldn’t wait to try it.

The $3 bite is a mini version of mashed potato sundae; you can also get a mini Berry Smoothie Cake Cup with pound cake, mixed berry compote, raspberry crème and whipped cream, but the regular size is only $2 more.

The novelty of a mashed potato sundae is unique, but the mini cup made it a little difficult to mix up the ingredients. The meat to mashed potato ratio was a little heavy on the meat side when you’re trying to get a forkful that has a little bit of everything.

Mini Mashed Potato Sundae (Theresa Carpine/Spokane7.com)

The “sundae” aspect of this dish probably works better with the larger size, since only ingredient that was layered seemed to be cheese. As you can see in the after photo, I was determined to get as much of that delicious cheese sauce out of the cup.

While a mini was a little too small, the full-size might be a big much for one person (at least, this person). What I really want is a frozen yogurt set up, where you load up the mashed potatoes with whatever mix of toppings you want, and then you pay by weight. A girl can dream, right?

P.S. I did get a Saucer Burger for lunch and discovered that the prices had dropped! Two for $5 is a good deal, and just the right size for a lunch. Some people where buying these burgers by the half-dozen!

Saucer Burger (Theresa Carpine/Spokane7.com)

Planetary Pies, oh my!

While Pig Out in the Park is one of my favorite local traditions—the people-watching is top-notch—some of the vendors take the “pig out” part of it a little too literally. Even on my hungriest days, I’m not going to be able to finish a pile of ribs or mountain of Chow Mein on my own.

So I was quite excited when the food festival announced $3 bites a few years ago. Unfortunately, these mini-portions are only available during non-peak hours, 3-5 p.m. and 9-10 p.m., but I’m treating myself this week with a mid-afternoon snack at some of this year’s new booths (or at least booths that I do not recognize).

For my Wednesday bite, I went to Saucer Burgers & Planetary Pies. Regular prices are $5 for one, $9 for two, which is a pretty good deal on its own. UPDATE: At 11:30 a.m., Sept. 3, prices are $3 for one, $5 for two. - TC

The Apple Planetary Pie is apple pie filing pressed and toasted between two circular cut slices of Franz Big White Bread, topped with cinnamon and sugar, caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Apple Planetary Pie (Theresa Carpine/Spokane7.com)

I must say, Franz bread makes for a decent pie crust, and the hand-sized pies follow the Goldilocks principle (not too big, not too small…but just right). It was too difficult to eat with a spork, so I’m sure I looked ravenous as I shoveled the pie into my mouth straight from the basket. The sticky toppings made a bit of a mess, but also made the pie much more delicious.

The Apple Planetary Pie piqued my appetite, and interest, just enough that I might have to return to Pig Out at lunchtime to try the Saucer Burger, in addition to my Thursday afternoon bite, which I’ll tease with three words: mashed potato sundae.

What Pig Out bites have you tried this year?

How do you get to food?

Yesterday, my fiancé and I were walking outside River Park Square on our way to lunch after a wedding errand. As we were about to cross Post Street, two strangers asked us for directions to Chase Bank, or “anywhere they could exchange international currency.” We pointed them east, and were about to cross that way ourselves when we were stopped again.

“Excuse me, are you giving directions to out-of-towners?” a middle-aged gentleman asked.

“Sure! Where would you like to go?” I responded.

He explained that he was in town from Salt Lake City and looking for a local place for lunch in the area. “Local,” he emphasized. “I can go to Red Robin anywhere.”

Staying on theme, I pointed east once again, recommending neighboring restaurants Durkin’s Liquor Bar or Madeleine's Cafe. My fiancé directed him across the river to Kendall Yards for Central Food or Veraci Pizza, or a number of the restaurants now open in that area.

He thanked us for our time and help, then we continued on our way. And we continued to think of great local restaurants in the downtown area, and beyond, where we could have sent him.

What local restaurant do you recommend to visitors?

Browne’s Tavern a perfect summer lunch treat

Sometime in January, when I expect temperatures to drop into the teens or below and Spokane streets to be covered in snow or ice, I'm going to think back to Saturday afternoon, when my wife, my brother and I had lunch at Browne's Tavern.

Located in Browne's Addition, across the street from The Elk Public House, Browne's Tavern offers a full range of eats and drinks that fit a summer menu, in particular, quite well. The three of us opted for salads with shaved prime rib, and they ended up being just what we wanted (even if we weren't expecting the grilled green peppers, which were a nice touch).

The sun was out, we sat in the courtyard under the shade of an umbrella, and enjoyed the day, the salads, the service and the sun.

Especially the sun. Maybe the memory will help keep me warm as we enter the new year. One can always hope.

Eggs: The devil made Kelly make them

My pal and former Spokesman-Review colleague Leslie Kelly has enjoyed (mostly) a varied career since leaving Spokane's paper. She worked for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and has slaved away in various positions as a freelance food writer while living with her husband John within a shadow's length of Seattle's Space Needle.

Just recently, though, she snared a position for the website allrecipes.com. And, she reports, she's never been happier — which is a refreshing thing to hear from a writer in this era of low-paid web journalism.

It's not exactly easy to find her efforts on the site. But this link will take you to a recent story she wrote about deviled eggs. Click on it and learn something. Here's a link to some of her other stories.

Excuse me while you read. I'm heading for my kitchen to see if I can't replicate one of those deviled-eggs recipes. 

For some tasty reporting, check out Tastemade

In this second decade of the 21st century, we've all become critics. Of course, "critic" these days usually means either "fanboy" or "troll," as the range of informed and intelligent reviews of pretty much anything is limited.

Which is why I always read as many reviews as I can. Of movies, for sure, but even more so of restaurants. I want to make sure that I'm not reading the overly complimentary notes of an eatery's employee or, worse, the negative news being delivered by a competing eatery's front office.

Or I can do this: search out for voices that I know and trust. One such voice in Seattle is Leslie Kelly, a restaurant and food writer whom I have known for more than three decades. Whom I worked with at The Spokesman-Review. And whose work I still follow, especially whenever I want to know the latest places to hit in that city we all know and love 280 miles west.

Leslie writes these days for Zagat, and she also does video reviews for Tastemade, which is available both online and as a phone app. Her Tastemade reviews provide a look at what you can expect from variety of places, and I can't think of a better site to start looking for a decent place to eat. (That's a photo of her up above, sampling a tasty beverage from one of the spots she's visited.) 

You can follow Leslie by going on the Tastemade site and signing up. And who knows? Maybe even you can become a Tastemade critic yourself. It's clear that Spokane's growing foodie scene needs a few good ones.

And if you do? Try to avoid being either a generic fanboy or a raving troll. The world's already got too many of them.

Petit Chat Village Bakery: tasty treats at a good price

I wrote a blog post a while ago that described my experience at the local Wisconsinburger outlet. One of the things I stressed was how much I paid ($35.50, which included a 20 percent tip) for two burgers and fries and two drinks.

Now, a comparison. This afternoon my wife and I had lunch at the Petit Chat Village Bakery, which sits a short walk from Whitworth University. I ordered a turkey-cranberry sandwich and a lemonade, my wife a boast beef dip with iced tea. Both sandwiches came with chips. Our total bill: $21.50.

Now, I know, one is a gourmet burger place, the other a sandwich shop/bakery. Two different types of restaurant.

But my sandwich was too large for me to eat at one sitting. And my wife took half her order home, too. So I guess one question is, in what way do you want to spend your money? And another question is, how much are you willing to spend to get it?

I know what my answers are.

Beer mecca hits the South Hill

Not that I want to step into my colleague Rick Bonino's world, but I was visiting the South Hill UPS Store — which is located in the same small mall as the new AAA Cruise & Travel store — and I just happened upon beer heaven.

I mean, it must be heaven because the friendly staffers at The Growler Guys were not only free with their advice but they were free with the samples of their rotating 48 different brews. We opted for a small refillable bottle of pale ale out of the Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Ore.), and finished it over the next hour. Or maybe half.

The site is one of 11 in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. And it's within walking distance of my house.

Didn't know heaven was that easy to access.