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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

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.

Save your lunch money before visiting Wisconsinburger

After receiving several recommendations, I took my brother to eat hamburgers at the Wisconsinburger joint sitting on a residential corner at 910 S. Hatch. The visit met a number of our burger needs, though hardly all.

Since we were going to a movie at 7, we showed up at what I thought would be early enough: 5:45 or so. The place was already packed, so we opted to sit at the bar. No problem, though clearly this wouldn't have met everyone's needs.

The young woman who seated us was pleasant enough, and after a short wait our server showed up wearing a similar smile and polite attitude. Both asked us if we had visited previously, and both thanked us for coming.

Since I was driving, I didn't have a beer, and I was disappointed that they couldn't give me my usual non-alcohol standby (club soda with a lime). So I settled for a Diet Coke. My brother asked for, and received, iced tea. The menu is somewhat limited (at least to those who are accustomed to ornate menu listing offered by Red Robin or other popular spots), but it does give you the options to shape your own burgers.

I ordered the Beloit Blue, which features "fresh ground beef, Wisconsin blue cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato and grilled onions." My brother chose the regular Wisconsinburger, though he added bacon (for an extra $2). We both switched to fries (another $2) over the standard chips as a side.

 The burgers took longer than you might expect (again, the place was packed), but I've had to wait far longer at other Spokane eateries just to get a server's attention. Seriously.

And our food when it came was … not disappointing. After all, we are talking about hamburgers here. The patty (both of us ordered singles; doubles cost $2.50 more) was tasty, the bleu cheese on mine added just the right amount of tartness. The size wasn't inordinately big, but then the buns (which weren't toasted, something I prefer) weren't oversized monsters, so I'm not complaining. The fries, though crispy enough, quickly lost their heat and ended up being far less tasty than I've had elsewhere — so I wish I'd stuck with the chips.

My brother downed his burger quickly enough and appeared to enjoy it (though he later said he prefers the burgers served by D.Lish's). Then again, he wasn't paying.

Paying was my responsibility. And the damage to my bankbook? After tip (I habitually give 20 percent), the bill was $35.50. Mind you, that was for two hamburgers, fries, a Diet Coke and an iced tea.

I may go back to Wisconsinburger, just to give my wife a chance to check things out. But I might consult with my financial advisor first.

Oh, and we made the movie with plenty of time to spare. That, though, is a whole other blog post.

Sunny weather brightens our Vancouver day

Day two in sunny Vancouver, British Columbia (see post immediate below), started out with the necessities as offered by our East Vancouver neighborhood: coffee at Turk's Coffee (double-shot americano) and then breakfast at Havana (everything from chicken and waffles to Eggs Benedict sans Hollandaise sauce).

Then we drove to Queen Elizabeth Park, which offers both a bit of nature and a great view of the city skyline. Following something of a theme, we drove to the University of British Columbia and checked out the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), which offers enough of a collection of native art and artifacts to please a pride of anthropologists.

Afterward, we drove along Marine Drive, stopped and walked along the beach at Jericho Beach Park.

And tonight: dinner at East Is East, an eatery owned by a couple of siblings of Afghan descent who lived in India and whose intent in Vancouver is — according to the website — to offer "fusion approaches to food, ambiance, music and art (that) all contribute to creating a sense of universality while retaining the essence of the Eastern heritage that the owners have brought with them to this land."

Our meal included chicken kabobs, spinach paneer, tabouli, salmon in coconut sauce and dahl — in other words, a whole assortment of eastern dishes. And during our meal, we were serenaded by a group of flamenco dancers, singers and musicians. All in all, it was a great experience — especially when one of our servers dropped an entire tray of food, dealt with the situation calmly and did her best to ease everyone's embarrassment. And then made sure the replacement food came faster than we expected.

Tomorrow we head home. But we'll take a bit of Vancouver with us. And we'll no doubt be back.

Time to enjoy the sights - and foods - of Vancouver, B.C.

I used to think that Seattle was the most beautiful city on the West Coast. Then I started spending time in San Francisco, and Seattle was relegated to No. 2. That lasted until I had the opportunity to first visit Vancouver, British Columbia.

Seattle, as fine a place as it is, then and forever more, ranked No. 3.

I've spent the last couple of days in the pearl of B.C., touring an international city that not only has access to water but is ringed by mountains. We met friends from Vermont who found an apartment rental in East Vancouver, just off Commercial Drive, and we've been hitting some tourist spots (the Capilano Suspension Bridge, for one), seeing movies (Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young") and eating.

Our first night, Thursday, we ate at a place just down the street for which our landlord had provided us a gift certificate. Biercraft Tap and Tapas Bar specializes in Belgian beers and fairly basic bar food (burgers seafood specials such as mussels and salads), all of which was tasty enough and came fairly quickly.

Last night we ate at the Addis Cafe, an Ethiopian eatery a half dozen blocks down Commercial. We ate from a huge platter of various meats and veggies, which we scooped up with ample servings of injera (the bread that comes in place of utensils). I only wish I could have washed it all down with a cold beer, I was forced to settle for Perrier. No matter.

Today we'll continue looking around. Maybe drive through some of the city's parks. Maybe drive out to the University of British Columbia. And, of course, we'll find more diverse and delicious places to eat. No doubt we'd have as good a time in San Francisco. Maybe in Seattle, too.

But, as I say, Vancouver, B.C., is my favorite West Coast city. And it's just an eight-hour (or so) drive from home.

Celebrate the coming summer with … beets?

This hasn't been much of a Northwest winter, not as we've endured them in the past. I've never been able to play golf around here in February, much less January — but I did this year. All that means, though, is that we'll probably see cold and rain lasting through June.

Clearly, I'm a half-glass-empty kind of guy.

Still, I want to prepare for the coming months of presumed warmth. And one way to to do that is to think summerish, as in what kind of summer food I'll want to eat. So it's a good thing that I know Delaney Mes, a food blogger from New Zealand. Since it's still summer down in her part of the world, she's a good source of summer-type recipes.

Her latest blog post offers up a quick salad, one that I ordinarily wouldn't try: lentil and beet salad. I'm no big fan of beets in any form. I did my best to down a bowl of borscht in Poland once and barely succeeded — but only because two of my wife's law students kept telling me how good it was and how excited they were to share it with me. How could I disappoint them?

Delaney's recipe might make for a different experience, though. Maybe my tastes have changed. Maybe the lentils will cut that beetly bitterness. Maybe the walnuts and tarragon will.

Whatever, thinking about the coming summer is a good thing. Thinking positively about the coming summer is even better.

Even one featuring beets. You can access Delaney's recipe by clicking here.

Durkin’s: The wait was worth it

Above: Wednesday night at Durkin's Liquor Bar, grilled pork chop at the top, fish and chips at the bottom.

As I've witten here in the past, one of the things I've most enjoyed about living in Spokane is that I seldom have to wait to be seated in a local restaurant. Because if I have to wait, I'm usually within five minutes of some other place that will seat me almost immediately.

That quality of Spokane life, sad to say, is changing. As new places open, and as they attract popularity, you can't just walk in anymore and expect to get the booth of your own choosing. But as they say, life changes, and you better change with it or you'll get left behind.

I took some baby steps toward change last night by accepting my wife's invitation to eat dinner at Durkin's Liquor Bar, which sits on a stretch of Main Avenue that used to house Dutch's Inc., once one of Spokane's best-known pawn shops. I'd called earlier in the day only to discover that the eatery doesn't accept reservations — a growing custom that I don't understand or like.

So, of course, when we showed up just after 6 p.m., the place was packed, and five or so other people were already waiting. But my wife calmed me down, we ordered drinks and, after waiting a little more than 10 minutes, we scored two seats at the bar.

While Durkin's is, technically speaking, a restaurant, it is set up like a bar. Seats run up and down the length of the room, facing the cooking area and the bar itself. On the opposite wall, a series of four-person booths offers more traditional dinner seating (but good luck snaring one of those). The place also offers a downstairs bar, though it was being used for a private function the night we visited, and a table near the entrance that — apparently — can be reserved for larger parties.

Anyway, after being seated, drinks still in hand, we perused the menu. Since Inlander Restaurant Week was still going on, and since Durkin's was participating, we split our order: My wife ordered off the set three-course meal (chopped salad, grilled pork chop, butterscotch pie dessert), while I opted for the regular menu (roasted tomato salad, fish and chips). We shared her dessert.

Our overworked server was polite, friendly and — for the most part — competent. Our salads came quickly enough, but our entrees arrived several minutes after others around us had been served (and only after I asked our server to check on our order). And when the bill came, my wife's meal wasn't listed (a fact we pointed out, for which the bartender thanked us).

So, overall, the experience was positive. My salad was perfect, the fish and chips better than I've had anywhere else in Spokane (and almost as good as what I ate last October in Iceland), and the bites I had of the dessert made me want more (a temptation I resisted). My wife's set-course salad was teeny, but that's a minor complaint, because the bite I had of her pork chop was scrumptious.

No, I have to admit that if Durkin's is a sign of how things are changing in Spokane, then the city — at least gastronomically — is headed in the right direction.

And I guess I'll tag along, too. I'd hate to get left behind. 

Luna founders leave an enduring foodie legacy

When I moved to Spokane  in 1980, dining out in Spokane for my then-family usually meant ordering Mexican food at Señor Guillermo's (in the Valley), ordering Chinese food at Peking North or eating whatever I could at the downtown Onion Bar & Grill. Given my dietary restrictions (I was then a vegetarian), I avoided most restaurants that catered to the steak crowd. We loved going out to breakfast, though, sometimes at the old St. Regis (where my daughter could color on the paper tablecloths), sometimes at Knight's Diner (when it was at its former site in the parking lot of the General Store).

But it's no big secret that, overall, Spokane in the '80s was a gastronomical backwoods. These days I can name a half dozen Spokane restaurants that could compete in either Seattle or Portland. But it took time, following Expo '74, for a consciousness regarding fine dining to take hold here.

One of the big leaps in that consciousness came because of the married couple William and Marcia Bond. A story in today's Spokesman-Review reveals that the Bonds, owners of the South Hill eatery Luna, are selling the place that they have owned and run since 1992. And while the story assures us that the new owners — Aaron DeLis and his fiancee, Hannah Heber, along with his parents Frank and Julie DeLis, all of Spokane — will continue with Luna's tradition of fine dining, we should recognize just how important the Bonds have been to Spokane's sense of good-food consciousness.

The story runs down the Bonds' specifics, where they came from, how they came to open Luna, how the place not only raised the city's expectations about fine-dining but also about helped educate many of us about the virtues of pairing food with wine. It doesn't say that the Bonds were also active with the former Contemporary Arts Alliance, which was the group that founded the long-running Spokane International Film Festival. And I'm sure the Bonds were involved in many other things as well.

What I want to do here, though, is simply recognize just how much their Luna has done for Spokane. Since it opened in 1992, it's always been one of the city's finest dining establishments. It helped raise expectation of what good food was, something these days most Spokane residents take for granted.

So thanks, William and Marcia Bond. You made a difference.

Tastemade Seattle treats Kelly to a tasty burger

Though the passes through the Cascades are problematic this time of year, some of us are still drawn west. To Seattle, mostly, where it's always fun to find new places to eat. The one person I lean on when it comes to the best Seattle eats is Leslie Kelly, my friend and former colleague at The Spokesman-Review.

Leslie has held a number of different food- and wine-related gigs in Spokane, Memphis and Seattle And her latest involves Tastemade, a site (and mobile app) that attempts to clue foodies (and the rest of us) in to what is gastronomically adventurous (and tasty) around a number of U.S. cities.

Click here to check out Leslie's look at Zippy's Giant Burgers in Seattle's Georgetown district, a mostly industrial area that Wikipedia tells us though "surrounded on all sides by industry and major transportation corridors, Georgetown retains a good number of residences and businesses."

Leslie produced the video, part of what her new job is. So if you have any suggestions about places she should investigate, let her know through the Tastemade Seattle Facebook site. Or just go on the site and check out places you should investigate yourself.

I definitely plan to.

Starbucks speaks an international language

Starbucks is taking over the world. I've ordered Starbucks coffee in every city from Athens and Barcelona to Sao Paulo and now Shanghai. And while there are some differences — green tea is big here in China — you're not likely to have problems ordering your favorite. And as the sign above indicates, holiday specials are available, too. For me, I typically settle for a grande americano with extra room. And it invariably comes as advertised.

Cold days call for a D.Lish burger

It's been an unusual November for Spokane. Mostly warm through the first week, then abysmally cold but with clear, clear skies. And not a touch of snow, though it did ice up for several mornings. We know the snow is coming, but some of us are thankful it's held off this long.

Whatever, the best way I know of to beat the cold is to eat a hot lunch. And lunch, for many of us, often means a burger. That's what my brother Randy and I enjoyed the other day as we drove down Division and stopped by D.Lish's Hamburgers.

That's our order in the photo. A double cheeseburger for my brother, and a regular cheeseburger (with crunchy onions) and fries for me. All that, with drinks, cost a mere $15.10.

And it's true: That price would have bought twice that just a couple of decades ago. But we all know of place in the city where that's what you'll pay for a single burger, fries and a drink. So I'm not complaining.

Our stomachs weren't either, by the way.

Giving good service is a no-brainer

Above: I give thanks right back at the Satellite Diner for treating me right. 

One of the things that my former colleague, the food writer Leslie Kelly, used to stress in her restaurant reviews was service. It's all very good if the food is tasty, the decor is stylish and the presentation is original. But if the service is subpar, then that needs to be pointed out.

I'm not a food critic. Movies? I'll offer up an opinion, sure. Same with books. But food? Not my field. That said, I write about restaurants as someone who has an eye for what he likes. And dislikes. I write as a consumer with expectations.

And service ranks at the top of those expectations, no matter what business we're talking about. For example, I'm currently not shopping at Huckleberry's Natural Market because I finally got tired of how they do things — the disorganized manner in which they run both their cafe and check-out stands — and so I'm shopping elsewhere. Same with the cafe The Yards, which is where we tried to eat this afternoon.

I dropped my wife and brother off in front of the The Yards and, after finding a parking spot, rejoined them. They'd been told to take a table and were reading the menus. No water, no silverware. Just two, not three, menus. So we shared menus and discussed what we might order. And then we commenced to wait … and wait … and wait for service. My wife finally attracted the attention of a server walking by, who told us that someone else was supposed to be working our area. That same server eventually returned with our water and cutlery. But the server who was supposed to take our order stayed busy clearing several bills before going on to clear a number of nearby tables. At this point, the restaurant was half empty. Yet not once did he even glance in our direction.

So, finally, we lost patience, got up and walked out. I've worked in restaurants, so I know how hard the job is. And because of that, I may go back to The Yards, just as I may shop at Huckleberry's some day. But the point is, this is Spokane. The new Spokane. And we have choices. Trader Joe's offers much the same kind of product that you can get at Huckleberry's, and it's not difficult to find any number of local eateries that serve a quick late-lunch breakfast. None of us have to sit and stew about poor service, no matter what the reason.

We ended up at the Satellite Diner, which was only one of the choices we faced after leaving The Yards. We saw a booth, sat down, got served right away with drinkable coffee and ice tea, well-cooked eggs and bacon and toast. As well as being hot and plentiful, the food was just what we needed.

So our dining experience today ended up being satisfying. Which is my point: Give me good service or, regardless of your reputation, I'm taking my appetite — and money — elsewhere.

I'm pretty sure Leslie Kelly would agree.

Perfect rainy day treat: Nordstrom soup and grilled cheese

Above: The bottle is empty, but our stomachs are full.

I look out there and see nothing but sun this morning. Which is something of a surprise considering how steadily it rained all day Sunday.

But, you know, Sunday's precipitation encouraged me to prepare a perfect stay-at-home dinner — aided by something I purchased at one of our favorite downtown eateries. On occasion, especially after having seen a movie, we drop by the Nordstrom Marketplace Cafe. And late last week, when we arrived, I ordered a Turkey Cranberry Sandwich, my brother opted for Prosciutto Mozzarella Sandwich, while my wife chose one of her favorite soups, Nordstrom's Roma Tomato Basil Soup.

In fact, she liked the soup so much that we ordered an extra bottle and took it home. So for a rainy-day treat, I heated up the soup — adding a bit of heavy cream, some garlic and chopped fresh basil — and served it with a grilled Dave's Killer Bread and Muenster cheese sandwich.

It was the perfect afternoon meal. In some of my more fantastical culinary moments, I entertain thoughts of trying to fix that same soup from scratch. For the time being, though, dropping by Nordstrom and purchasing a ready-made bottle (that I can use as a base) fits my lifestyle just fine.

And I drank every single Icelandic drop

If you haven't checked out Rick Bonino's beer blog yet, you probably should. I say that in advance of sharing my own beer news: My recent trip to Iceland, which has my wife and I circumnavigating the island during a week-long driving tour, included a first-ever beer treat.

See that picture above? It is the beer that I ordered with my dinner two nights ago in the teeny port town of Hofn. We ate at our hotel, not necessarily because its was good — though, in the end, it was — but because this is the off season and every other restaurant save the local drive-in was closed. So we ate at the restaurant at the Hotel Hofn.

The beer was recommended by our server, a nice enough guy who also took our orders for a langoustine appetizer, soup and a Greek salad. But we washed them all down with beers, a lager for my wife and the regionally brewed Vatnajokull "Frozen in Time" ale for me. Click on the link to get the beer experts' opinions; all I can say is that it was tasty and cold and just what I needed to finish off a hard day's driving in Iceland (where the roads, while mostly in good shape, are so narrow they require constant concentration and so make all driving days hard).

I needed it so much I didn't even blink at paying 1,200 krona — which amounts to exactly $9.94. For a single bottle. Of beer. As I say, that's a first for me.

I'm not sure how you say Happy Hour in Icelandic. But I can imagine anytime something is discounted in this country, the emphasis is likely on the word Happy. 

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