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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

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.

No matter how you spell it, these are tasty veggies

I grew up hating Brussels sprouts. My mother, who followed the 1950s-era cooking style of boiling the hell out of any and all vegetables, would serve them up on a plate with no spice adornment whatsoever. And, of course, she would expect us to clean our plates.

Not long ago, though, I discovered a trick: It's called roasting. Bear with me as I take you through what, to me, is Cooking 101 (which is about as advanced as I get). You take a couple dozen Brussels sprouts, cut off the stems, halve them, throw them in a bowl, drizzle a bit of olive oil over them, add some Kosher salt (the big-grain kind), spread them out on an oiled baking pan, let them sit in your oven (that has been pre-set at 400) for 20 minutes and … voila! A dish even my mother couldn't have screwed up.

So I'm always on alert in grocery stores when Brussels sprouts go on special. As they were the other day in Trader Joe's. I might not even have noticed them, though, had I not seen a store employee pointing to the sign pictured in the above photo — and laughing.

Not even sure what Brussels spouts are. But I bought some.

Hope they taste the same as Brussels sprouts.

Quench your coffee jones wherever you can

I usually shape my coffee-drinking habits by whatever season I'm in. Which means that, while I drink hot coffee all the year round, I typically drink iced coffee during warmer months.

And by iced-coffee drinks I include what, in some cases, could be described as “coffee-like” drinks. I mean, sure, some coffee places — the better ones, at least — make sure that their iced-coffee drinks have pulled shots of genuine coffee in them. Others, well, not so much. 

What you get when you order a Costco mocha freeze, for example, probably has as much to do with real coffee as Daniel Day-Lewis does with the real Abraham Lincoln. But since I don't work there, and have no inside information about the way Costco does business to share, I really don't know one way or the other. (For all I know, Costco could be filling its mocha-freeze machines with prime Colombian roast. Anything is possible, right?)

Whatever, I am obsessed with Costco's coffee (or coffee-like) drink. And for just $1.45, it's a definite bargain. So despite the recent cold (with more on the horizon), I devoured one the other day. And, despite reports about the amount of calories/fat grams in each cup, am likely to do so all through the winter.

Did I say I was obsessed? Maybe addicted would be a better description. 

 

New Zealand is a country of international cuisine

My New Zealand friend Delaney Mes just wrote a blog post about bagels. The fact that she refers to the New Zealand chef Al Brown, whose take on bagels leans more toward “Montreal style” instead of those made famous in New York is hardly a problem. Yeah, New Zealand is a 14-hour plane trip from Spokane, but the idea that Delaney is writing about is universal.

Take what Brown calls The Weinberg, which is a bagel covered with slow-roasted vine tomatoes, mozzarella, arugula and basil, and lemon and oregano oil. As Delaney describes it, “it's like a cross between a really good pizza and an insalata caprese and it's absolutely the tits.”

Gonna have to try to make this at home. How can your resist something that's “absolutely the tits”?

Get your ‘soft tendon’ at Pho Van - or not

I can remember driving down Division Street in the 1980s, counting Chinese restaurants. From Hawthorne Road to Sharp Avenue, we called out the names … and stopped when we reached double figures. Not because we ran out of restaurants but because we got bored.

Times have changed, as have the types of Asian food Spokane residents can order. No longer limited just to Chinese food, area eaters can enjoy Japanese, Mongolian, Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese — not to mention dishes that are listed under the vague heading of … well, “Asian.”

One of my favorite spots is Pho Van, which is located on Division (of course) near the Division/Ruby split. My wife and I ate there the other night, and I ordered No. 11 (see the above photo), which is a blend of short ribs, shrimp, a fried egg on rice, while my wife — who typically orders No. 16 went with the No. 7 soup.

Why the change? Number 7, she said, was the first of the soup dishes on Pho Van's menu that didn't feature “soft tendon.”

Makes sense. And I doubt you could have found that particular ingredient on a Spokane menu 30 years ago.

Try soup and salads at Clover - hold the cucumber

When one of my friends asked me to list my top 10 Spokane restaurants, I had to include Clover. I've eaten there twice now, which doesn't include the evening that I had drinks and appetizers on the patio. And each time I had a great meal.

OK, forgive the above photo, which is what happens when you, 1, lack talent as a photographer, 2, hold your iPhone awkwardly and fail to center on what you're shooting and, 3, think that soup and a salad is enough for dinner. So, OK, I was one for three (soup and THAT salad was indeed enough for dinner).

That, by the way, is a Clover salad and a cup of tomato bisque soup. And both were great.

But … look, I love lemonade. I even love Arnold Palmers, which everyone knows is ice tea and lemonade. But lemonade and … cucumbers? Seriously? I understand that it's fashionable to put cucumber in water. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. But lemonade, one of the best simple drinks imaginable? I mean, if you want to improve lemonade, then put something alcoholic in it. Vodka, maybe? Or rum. Not cucumbers. Ever.

So, soups? Way to go, Clover. Salads? Bravo. Cucumbers in my lemonade?

No.

Practice your Latin at Agave Latin Bistro

I need to thank Spokane's Fire Artisan Pizza for helping me find a decent meal on Saturday evening. My brother and I had tickets for the Night of Edgar Allan Poe that was being held at the Bing Crosby Theater at 7:30, so we stopped by the nearby pizza place at 6, hoping to get a table.

Fat chance. The place is small enough as it is. But it looked as if someone was holding a family celebration, which was enough to fill 20-some seats. So we were told that the wait for a table — for two — would be “about 20 minutes.”

Uh-uh. As I've written in the past: I live in Spokane, which means that I don't have to wait for a table. So we turned around, walked down the street and immediately scored a table at Agave Latin Bistro. Which turned out to be a good decision.

I've never understood why this location has such a hard time holding onto a restaurant. I've lost track of the places that have opened and closed there since the days it was the old diner (and its attendant bar, the Apache Room). And while people slowly drifted in as we perused the menu, the atmosphere wasn't exactly jumping while we ate.

And ate well we did. After chicken empanada appetizers, we both had Agave salads with grilled shrimp (big enough to be entrees by themselves) and then shared an order of carne asada tacos (see the above photo). The food came quickly, the service was prompt and friendly and if we'd wanted, we could have had any number of drinks to wash things down with.

The people sitting at the tequila bar sure seemed to be enjoying themselves.

So, nothing against Fire Artisan Pizza. I've eaten there, and I love the food you serve. But thanks for giving me the opportunity to try what to me is someplace new.

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