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Archive: Food & Dining / Spokane and North Idaho

They taste even better than they look

Further notes on our trek through southern Italy:

It occurred to me that a photo of pizza might be more tantalizing to American tastes than one of pasta, no matter how delicious. So I decided to post a photo of the pizzette from Trieste, the sea-side Pescara pizza place that I wrote about in the post immediately below. Included in this bunch were two margheritas, one gran formaggio and one with potatoes and olives.

Part of the Trieste secret, of course, is the size of the slices — each of which is barely more than a single slice of your typical American pizza. That smaller size allows each slice to be toasted perfectly, holding it's shape even when you fold it over and hold it between sheets of parchment-like paper (as we watched other diners do).

And since we paid less than $20 for four slices, a Coke zero, a Nastro Azzuro beer and a large bottle of carbonated mineral water, we felt as if we got a real deal. Call it dining, Italian-style.

In Italy, the real story is always about food

Above: Rigatoni with eggplant and ricotta di pecora, as served at Ristorante Taverna 58 in Pescara, Italy.

Several years ago, I read a book titled “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.” Written by the late Joe McGinniss, it details a season in the life of a soccer team from a tiny village in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

For reasons I can’t remember, I was able to score a phone interview with McGinniss shortly after its publication. As someone who had just been to Italy, I was intrigued by McGinniss’ book, by his passion for soccer – and by Abruzzo. I recall McGinniss’ being a generous, interesting interview subject.

In the intervening years (the book came out in 1999), I’ve visited Italy several more times, but I’ve never had the occasion to visit Abruzzo. Until now.

As I write this, I’ve been in Italy for a week. I landed in Rome, spent the night, then trained with my wife to the city of Lecce, which sits in the southern region of Puglia. Accompanied by friends who live in Lake Como, we spent the next couple of days driving around such towns as Ostuni, Alberobello (site of the famous Trulli houses), Villanova and Locorotondo.

Then yesterday, we trained to the coastal Abruzzo city of Pescara. Abruzzo is known mostly for its mountainous interior, which is rated as one of the greenest spots in  Europe. But we have only one full day to spend here, and we’re without a car, so Pescara is our only stop.

And while it’s no mountain retreat, it does offer a refreshing view of the sea (especially from the terrace of our room in the Hotel Maja). And we’ve spent most of the day walking from one part of the city to the next.

This is Italy, though, so instead of talking about museums or churches, I need to talk food. Last night we had some of the best pizza I’ve enjoyed outside of Naples. Trieste Pizza offers small, individuals pizzas in a variety of tasty combinations. We ordered four, from mushroom to artichoke to potato and sausage to cheese and pesto, and we finished every crumb.

And today we walked (and walked and walked) and ended up eating lunch at Ristorante Taverna 58, an eatery built on an ancient Roman site and sitting down the street from the birthplace of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. We opted for the set (three-course) lunch menu of the day, which was … well, the word scrumptious comes to mind.

More important, the service was superb, the servers solicitous to our every need – and they even endured our poor Italian with an abiding courtesy.

We leave Pescara tomorrow on our way to Florence. But a bit of the Abruzzo will no doubt stick with us.

Thanks to a book about soccer and its author, Joe McGinniss.

Kelly presents the best of Jacques Pépin

I'm not much of a cook. But I love watching people who can wield a spatula. And I don't love any cook as much as I do Jacques Pépin.

My daughter and her husband turned me on to Pépin and his line of how-to-cook DVDs, "Fast Food My Way" (many of which now can be accessed on YouTube). In addition to finding some great recipes, I enjoy watching Pépin himself. Besides being knowledgeable, he's gracious and demonstrates a wry sense of humor. Watching him is almost like standing alongside him in the kitchen.

Which is exactly what my friend and former colleague Leslie Kelly is going to get to do next week. Kelly, who is a staff writer at Allrecipes.com, is scheduled to meet up with Pépin at New York City's Culinary Center and actually cook "quick Coq au vin" during an April 5 live event.

But you don't have to wait until then to get started on a Pépin-inspired dish. Kelly wrote a piece for the website titled "8 Genius Tips from Jacques Pépin for Making Better Chicken." They include everything from positioning your chicken on its side (it “helps the legs, which take longer than the breast, cook faster, and also keeps the breast moist”) to using spices such as cayenne and black pepper ("which can easily be turned up to make a dish such as chicken curry a little extra fiery").

Check it out. And find a way to listen in when Kelly and Pépin cook his Coq au vin. You might learn something. I know I will.

Below: The great Jacques Pépin shares his culinary knowledge.

Food and movies beat the San Francisco rain

Above: Kokarri's zucchini cakes may be small, but they sure are tasty.

It may be Arctic conditions in Spokane, but San Francisco on this early-January day felt more like Seattle, the Bay Area winter rain and chill permeating my jacket like an hungry relative looking for a loan.

And the weather wasn't our only problem. Our short stay in the City by the Bay started rough: a six-hour flight delay in SeaTac causing us to delay our hotel bedtime until nearly 4 a.m.

Ah, but once we awoke, San Francisco — even despite the rain and mid-50s weather — proved to be a delight, both gastronomic and cinematic. Which is the point of this blog post: If you're in the mood for a mid-winter break, San Francisco is a worthy choice.

Our first stop was at Kokorri, a Greek restaurant, where we had lunch. We shared appetizers — spanakotiropita (spinach tarts), zucchini cakes (see the photo above), grilled octopus and grilled lamb riblets — and a chopped salad (romaine lettuce, roasted pine nuts, Kalamata olives, fresh dill all mixed with a perfectly sparse amount of creamy feta dressing).

The online reviews of Kokorri make the place sound like a bit of Greek heaven. And our experience, from decor to service to the food itself, proved the point.

Then because we are, more than anything else, movie fans, we hit the Embarcadero Center Cinema, where we did a two-fer: "Jackie," a study of the late Jacqueline Kennedy (before she became Onassis), and "Lion," the based-on-real-events story of a lost Indian boy who ends up searching for his birth family. We'll address both on the show we do for Spokane Public Radio.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped by Aquitaine, a French bistro and wine bar. We shared the house special, pork shanks, and a couple of glasses of red wine. I can't remember the last time I felt so welcomed in a restaurant, and the warm little corner we sat in was the perfect place to share what was a delicious meal.

For a nightcap, we dropped by the Clock Bar at the Westin for a couple of post-meal cocktails. Sitting off to ourselves, we clinked glasses in a toast to a good food, good movies and good times.

Yeah, it rained all day in San Francisco. Does that a lot in January. But the weather did not spoil our day in the slightest.

Try this Mes of a Hot Wings burger recipe

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a number of sites in New Zealand. At the time I was working for Bloomberg Government, and one of my Bloomberg colleagues — a New Zealand native — told me about her food-writer sister.

Actually, at the time Delany Mes was working as a lawyer and part-time food blogger, freelance writer. That was her status when we met at an Auckland eatery for what would be a delicious lunch. Some time afterward, Mes gave up her law job and began pursuing food writing full time.

I check out her blog on occasion and am regularly surprised at the recipes she shares. In her most recent post, she talks about hamburgers. But not just any kind of burgers. Her burger is a blend of chicken hot wings and burger.

You can get her recipe by clicking here.

And go ahead and enjoy your burger, Kiwi-style.

Weekend getaway: Halcyon Hot Springs

Several years ago, I would on occasion write a Getaway piece for The Spokesman-Review. The story would usually involve some place local that SR readers could visit for a quick … well, getaway.

 Which is exactly what my wife and I did Sunday and Monday. We drove six hours north, past Castlegar and Nakusp, British Columbia, to a resort called Halcyon Hot Springs. We rented a cabin, ate two nights at the resort restaurant, spent a lot of time soaking in the pools (there are four of them) and, in general, just relaxed.

 The resort, which fronts Upper Arrow Lake, has a number of rental choices, from chalets to cabins (ours was perfectly adequate for two of us, and it boasted a TV, a refrigerator and coffee fixings, though no kitchenette) to camping areas.

 The four pools includes a regular swimming pool (86 degrees), a hot pool (99 degrees), a hotter pool (104 degrees), and a cold-plunge pool (58 degrees). Guests get free access, including robes and towels, but outside access is available for a fee.

 The on-site eatery, the King Fisher Restaurant, offers a decent range of dishes, all appealing to our non-foodie palates. The above photo captures our Monday night meal, beef bavette in the foreground, roast lamb in the rear (served with an interesting veggie medley). And the wine made everything taste even better.

 (Our only complaint: Despite having called ahead to make a reservation, we were sat on Sunday next to the kitchen. We fixed that the next night by eating earlier.)

 On Monday afternoon, we drove 30 kilometers to the atmospheric little town of Nakusp. We checked out the Nakusp Hot Springs, ate lunch at the historic Leland Hotel, walked along the town’s boardwalk and enjoyed a post-lunch coffee at What’s Brewing on Broadway.

 I’m always amazed at the scenery in British Columbia. It rivals anyplace I’ve seen in the world, including New Zealand. And to think, it sits just a few hours drive north.

I’ll definitely be back.

Throw out those antacid tablets

Have a problem with your stomach? Do you pound the Tums to quell the pains in your tummy? Well, Leslie Kelly has the cure.

Once a food writer/restaurant reviewer for The Spokesman-Review, Kelly is now a staff writer for Allrecipes.com. Her latest piece is titled "These Recipes Helped Me Kick My Antacid Habit," which is pretty self-explanatory.

You can access it by clicking here. Then go out and enjoy a great meal.

Kelly: Take a new look at breakfast

Photo by Allrecipes.com

Most of us don't need a reason to eat breakfast. We wake up hungry and pretty much anything will do — as long as coffee comes with it.

But writers such as Leslie Kelly try to be imaginative. So she's not content with simply suggesting we all eat oatmeal. Or yogurt with fruit. Or even bacon and eggs (though as a longtime friend and former Spokesman-Review colleague, I know she has some special liking for bacon).

So as a writer now for Allrecipes.com, Kelly is charged with coming up with unique ways to think of, and even prepare, food. And one of the posts that you'll find on her author page involves that first meal of the day. It offers up the notion of salad — salad — for breakfast.

You'll access it by clicking here.

You'll can find any number of food/cooking websites. But I haven't found one that surpasses Allrecipes.com, for menu suggestions or for — as Kelly demonstrates — novel ways to tackle meals that we eat every day in ways that so often become either mundane or cliche.

Though, seriously, who could ever get tired of bacon?

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.