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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

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.

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.