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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

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. 

There’s a word for some ‘traditional’ dishes

Every culture has dishes that offer a problematic appeal to the human palate. In the U.S., you might put Rocky Mountains oysters on the list. Or rattlesnake. Chef Andrew Zimmern has built a whole career out of eating such things as cow placenta, bull penis and salted tuna sperm.

Iceland, for its part, has built a whole tourist industry around serving a few such dishes. Atop the list would be hákarl, the raw, fermented shark (some would say) delicacy that famously made Gordon Ramsey vomit. You can find it on the menu of virtually any Icelandic restaurant that bills itself as an outlet for traditional Icelandic fare.

So … we stopped into one of those kinds of restaurants earlier today during our stay in Reykjavik, called Prir Frakkar (which Eyewitness Travel guide translates as Three Overcoats). And there it was, hákarl. And I debated for five seconds before deciding … no freaking way. Likewise, we passed on horse tenderloin, whale steak and panfried guillemot (if we can't recognize it, we tend to avoid it). But we did opt for another local dish, which was identified as “reyktur Lundi með sinnepssósu, or smoked puffin breast with mustard sauce.

I mean, a puffin is a bird (as, we later discovered, is a guillemot). How bad can a bird taste? That's a photo of the dish up above there as it arrived at our table.

Well, some people are adventurous. Others have a taste for the exotic. My wife ordered “Heilsteikt Rauðsprettuflök með rækjum 'gratin,' ” which is panfried fillet of plaice with shrimp “gratin,“ without even knowing that plaice is a white flatfish. And even though the sauce made the whole thing a little rich, she did a good job of eating over half.

I ate the other half, along with a bowl of creamy mushroom soup and several pieces of bread. Why? To get the taste of smoked puffin out of my mouth, actually. That stuff tastes like worm sushi.

So glad I passed on the shark.

Head to Greenbluff for some tasty baked treats

Even if it weren't clear that the autumnal equinox has passed, it would still be obvious that fall is here. You can feel it in the air. And the fall season means … time to visit Green Bluff.

My wife and I drove north on Sunday afternoon, and we stopped by High Country Orchards. We passed on the espresso, the gifts and the antiques, which remind me of your friendly Cracker Barrel. We even passed on the scones pictured above. But we did pick up some fruit, a few peaches and apples, and I just couldn't resist buying a peach pie — which we consumed with some frozen yogurt later after dinner.

So while the weather holds, we'll be heading back north. And maybe next time? I'll try one of those huckleberry scones.

Luna beignets are a small slice of New Orleans

Anyone who has ever visited New Orleans knows about the Cafe Du Monde. It's always been a tourist haunt, and the crowds can be irritating, but I remember spending a pleasant afternoon there a decade and a half ago eating beignets, drinking cafe au lait and reading the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Times have changed. The newspaper is a shadow of its former self. And I haven't been able to score a table, much less a table for one, my last two visits. But I bought my beignets to go. Yes, they will shorten my life, but I can't resist them.

Which is why when my wife, our friends Gerry and Layne and I ate brunch at Luna on Sunday, I had to — had to, I say — order their beignets as an appetizer. And, yes, our regular meals were delicious — a range of the Lucca Salad (eggs and bacon on a bed of greens), Eggs Florentine (poached eggs on English muffins with tomato and Hollandaise sauce), a butternut squash soup and a special chorizo-egg filled burrito.

But the beignets were heavenly. A bit small, about the size and shape of doughnut holes. But prepared just right, with whipped cream (not necessary), what I remember as raspberry jam (appreciated) and powdered sugar (obligatory).

Made me think I was back in New Orleans. Now if I can only find a place in Spokane that serves muffulettas like Central Grocery.

Indian Canyon serves up a mean burger

My former Spokesman-Review colleague Pia Hallenberg, a native of Denmark, just became an American citizen. On her Facebook page, she posted a photo of her celebration meal — a big, juicy cheeseburger with a criss-cross of bacon slices and a side of fries. As she noted, “First truly American meal.” To which I replied, “Good old American heart disease to follow.”

Not one to let a challenge go lightly, I hereby post a photo of what I ate for lunch today: a Caynon Burger, which the SR's former food editor Lorie Hutson described in a 2010 story as “a 1/3-pound patty topped with ham, cheddar and all the fixings for $6.75.” That price has risen in those four years to a flat $8. But it does include fries (the drink was extra).

After a tiring 18 holes, it was just the right bit of nourishment — and worth, as I'm sure Pia would agree, every bit the potential harm to my heart.

Easy these days to pair dinner and a movie

Unlike the old days — and by old days I mean anything before the year 2000 — combining dinner and a movie was a bit of a hassle. These days, though, it couldn't be easier. And that's true whether you choose to see movies on the north side, downtown, in the Spokane Valley or Coeur d'Alene.

Take yesterday. My wife, my brother and I went to see “The Drop” at AMC's River Park Square 20-plex. Seeing James Gandolfini in his final big-screen performance, performing in a cast with the likes of Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts, was a rich experience. You can hear my take on the film by tuning into “Movies 101” this Friday on Spokane Public Radio.

Afterward, we had our choice of downtown eateries. But we opted to eat in the mall. At Rock City Grill, in fact.

I ordered the pasta linguine with butter and myzithra cheese. My wife had the baked pesto salmon, while my brother chose chicken al forno. And everything was … well, edible. My brother's chicken was overcooked, and my pasta was passable, while my wife's salmon was, as the Italians would say, delizioso. So you could say our dining experience was mixed.

That's to be expected, though. Seeing movies is just as chancy as dining out. Just as not every movie can be “The Godfather,” not every pasta dish can be worthy of Wolfgang Puck.

Kir Royale lends a regal feel to this fading summer

My sister's wife and her husband are confirmed foodies. Wherever they go, they post Facebook photos of their food — and drink (shown above, a limoncello collins as served by Victor's Italian Restaurant of York, Pa). And this includes trips made to what are food festivals and cooking camps (or whatever the right word is). So they would appreciate my friend Delaney Mes, the New Zealand freelance writer, blogger and all-around food freak.

I link to Delaney's blog now and then, especially when she posts something that I find particularly interesting. Or delicious. The fact that she teamed up with an American musician and tandem-prepared a multi-course meal for 12 makes a nice read. But even more intriguing is the drink that they began with, something I'd never heard of called a Kir Royale.

Next hot day, maybe with luck this weekend, I'm going to try it out.

Oh summer, summer, please don't go. Not yet. Not just yet.

Grom gelato is great, but it’s un po costoso

As any international traveler knows, one of the joys of traveling in Italy is gelato. And maybe it's because you're eating it in la bella Italia, any kind you buy there tastes far better than anything ice cream labeled “gelato” on this side of the Atlantic.

Except for when the gelato you order comes from Grom, the company whose tagline claims that its product is “il gelato come una volta” (which doesn't translate literally but means something like “old-fashioned gelato”). I've ordered Grom gelato in Florence, which I've had the opportunity to visit a few times. And while it isn't my favorite gelateria (I prefer Gelateria dei Neri or Vivoli), it's pretty good.

As with Italian coffee, the worst gelato you've ever had is, in a single word, delizioso.

I mention Grom, however, because of a recent visit I made to New York City. We visited the Grom shop that is located just off Columbus Circle and couldn't resist ordering a post-dinner sampling. I had a large cup, while my wife ordered a smallish cone (stracciatella for me, pistacchio and stracciatella for her). And the results? Assolutamente delizioso.

Of course it had better measured up. Our combined bill came to more than $12.

For that price, I'll stick with good old American ice cream, thank you. In fact, I think I'll head for The Scoop after I post this.

No stracciatella there, I know. But maybe tonight they'll have Rocky Road. Speriamo, eh?

Manhattan can bend your mind a bit

When you visit a big city, it's easy to fall into habits you would seldom — if ever — indulge in at home. Eating an inordinately expensive dinner, for example.

I spent last week in New York. Much of that time, I was with my family in a rented cabin located just outside Woodstock. And, no, before you even ask, I'll admit that we didn't set off in search of Max Yasgur's famous farm (too many hours spent poolside watching a 3- and a 6-year-old). And we certainly didn't spend a whole lot of money on the area's eateries, except for the Jackson and a half that we spent at a second-rate Mexican joint called Taco Juan's.

All that changed, though, when we left Woodstock and headed for a night in Manhattan. We'd planned to take in a Broadway show, but we learned that it had been cancelled. So we decided just to have dinner. Which took us to the Upper West Side. And to the exclusive restaurant Boulud Sud.

The menu looked pricey, sure. But we've had plenty of experience ordering down, finding deals and sharing plates, to make sure we were getting the best deal possible. So no worries.

Except this time we went a little crazy. No, we didn't order a high-end bottle of wine. But the bottle of Prosecco we requested did cost more than our total bill at the taco shop. And when we were informed about the night's special — a uniquely prepared whole Bronzino for two — we said a quick yes. We also ordered a couple of appetizers. Crazy.

And the experience was … good. The experience, you understand. The food was almost that. But here's the thing: Was it worth the, uh, two Franklins and more that we ended up paying? Before tip?

Short answer: No. Not at least for someone who typically orders his Saturday-morning breakfasts off the senior menu at Jenny's Diner. And who finds that as satisfying as anything costing 20 times as much.

Now I really regret not taking that extra day to haunt the pasture that Jimi Hendrix played in.

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.

Almost.

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.

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