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Spokane - Fine Dining Recs?

I’ve been doing my reading and research on ChowHound, on restaurants in the Spokane Area and, though many of the replies are related to articles from ‘03 - 05, there are a few that are more recent. The reason that I am asking is that my wife is being recruited for a position in Spokane. This is a very similar post to ones that I have done on other boards, as she has progressed through the interview process, so please excuse it, as it has only changed regionally.

I’m a ‘hound in Phoenix, who spends much time in fine-dining establishments, around the globe. While PHX is not NYC, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Paris or London, it has a lot to offer - just got a new James Beard Award winner last week and two Iron Chef winners. If we were to relocate to Spokane, what would be in store for us?
I’ve looked at a few of the on-line menus, that I can find. I’ve poured over ever PDF wine list available (almost none). It looks like there are a few good spots, but, from the research, not that many, and mostly they would be typified as “family” restaurants, or chains. It does look like there is some mid-range eating, but I’ve seen little, that I would qualify as “fine-dining,” other than Clinkerdagger. Now, a lot of my research was probably limited by the differences in geographical references, between anything in Spokane and the vast American West. Not knowing exactly what constitutes the Spokane Area probably has me eliminating some places that would seem close-by by Phoenix standards. I’ve spent time on Mapquest and with my atlas, but just do not have a handle on the outlying burgs. I have probably missed a bunch in my searches. Phoenix is 500+ sq. miles, and growing hourly. The Metro-Area incorporates a dozen smaller city-entities, that I know. I realize that Spokane is much smaller 202,000 vs 4.5M in the Winter), but I’m sure that some of the towns, that I would consider immediately accessible and next-door, are not in my search criteria, because of my lack of geographical knowledge of the area.

Since my wife is a great cook (could be a chef, if she wasn’t so good at other things) and we have no children, I’m most interested in fine-dining, since the “family” oriented spots would probably be just a diversion, when we do not cook in and want to explore local cuisine.

What I am looking for is an overview of the fine-dining scene in Spokane, and its environs, plus recs. for wine lists, that are notable, and wine shops, that are well-stocked. Also, as I have a 6K btl. cellar, that would be moved, what are the laws, charges, general feelings, about BYO[Wine]? Here, in PHX, there are a lot of laws, that generally preclude much. Also, I’d rather support the restauranteur and buy off their list, unless it’s a special occasion.

I have many more questions, but none that are food/wine oriented. I’ll have to locate some fora to post those to.

Thanks for your thoughts,
Phoenix ‘hound, Hunt

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  1. Clinkerdagger's is ok---pricier than warranted, I think. I personally prefer Anthonys on the river, which has generally steak, chicken, seafood, all good. For steaks, oddly enough, though, I'd go to Spensers in the Doubletree. Breakfast? Fergusons on Garland, a real slice of the 50's---you wait a bit on weekends. The usual suspects [chains] are all here. I mostly avoid them: there's much else that's better. The Palm Court and the bar in the Davenport [historic restored hotel] are worth catching. Vegetarian: Mizuna; various ethnic: Thai [avoid Riverview Thai], Mexican [Casa d'Oro], Indian, Chinese, Japanese, etc, some fusion. I have my holes in the wall that I prefer to the real pricey places: Tomato Street for Italian, some items excellent: you learn which---tables there in the bar are shared during crowded hours, but people are friendly.
    Bringing your own bottle---I'd ask the individual restaurant: they'd probably say yes, for a special occasion; but obviously they make a lot of their money off the wines---food is generally not overpriced, so it's coming from the bar. Spokane, like Chicago and Seattle, burned in the 1880's, and was rebuilt. There was the old mining money, the new money---there's a curious mix of styles, and some interesting places don't look like much---but serve good food, even haute cuisine; and the reverse can be true. You can park downtown and hike to almost any part of downtown through park, across the river bridges, etc, and this is a city that walks, a lot, to reach little restaurants. Temperatures will be way cooler than the south, and the walk to a restaurant is a common proposal. Another local feature is called the Pigout in the Park, where local restaurants man counters to let people graze from type to type of food...I've never ventured down there: it's never been convenient---but it's far from piggery, and has some very good food. You can't carry an open container, though at the city fests, an exception is quietly made for near the counters where they're selling drinks. There's Ballet and Bubbly [Champagne and chocolates] at the holidays. And every holiday like the 4th brings out the restauranteurs with their traveling wagons in the park---some of which are quite good: the chocolate-dipped strawberries are a treat.
    There are a number of local wineries: the Columbia Valley produces a lot of wines, and there are some I favor quite highly.

    3 Replies
    1. re: dragonfare

      Dragonfare,

      Thanks for the report. I've only been to Seattle, and that only once, almost a year ago. Found a few good spots, some touritst sposts, and a little in between.

      Forutnately, I'm familiar with some of the major producers along the Columbia R., and look forward to learning some new ones, when wife does an "in person" interview. Other than its general location, and some Google and CH searches, I realized that I knew nothing of Spokane.

      One thing that struck me as odd, was the lack of WA/OR wines on the few PDFs, that I found. Just did a week in Santa Barbara, CA, and the local wines were everywhere - and great. I appreciate when a restauranteur supports the local growers and winemakers. I saw far less (on these few lists), than I had expected, and hoped for.

      Thanks for the info,
      Hunt

      1. re: Bill Hunt

        Columbia Crest and Arbor Crest are probably the widest distributed. Latah Creek has some I like. Caterina is very small...I've not been to that one. Anthony's features local wines. You can go on wine tours around the region. We're not Napa, but there are some nice ones, and that extends down into Oregon as well. We have a dry, hot-ish summer and a cool, wet winter that seems to do very well for the grapes.

        1. re: dragonfare

          In the past, we had two trips scheduled, that were to become wine-country tours, as soon as the business part was concluded. One was a convoluted trek through about all of the small producers in WA, then to the same in OR, with a drive down to finish in Napa. Unfortunately, both of those trips got canceled. We still manage to make a wine "tour" in one region of CA, or another, about once per quarter, after business.

          In general, I seek out the smaller producers, and have yet to have a trip that doesn't yield a great surprise, or two, or three...

          I have to admit that I know more wineries in OR, than in WA, but hope to do a mini-tour, should wife's recruitment get to a physical visit.

          Thanks for the info,
          Hunt

    2. While PHX may not be NYC, certainly Spokane is no Phoenix either! That being said, the dining scene here is changing and it's pretty much for the better. Admittedly 'fine dining' in the Inland Empire is limited. What you will find is a growing number of those little neighborhood bistros that are so fun to stumble across while in San Francisco. They are generally manned by young, creative, and energetic chefs and restaurateurs who work hard to cook locally and educate their clientèle about great ingredients and great wines. Here are some of my favs--as with any owner operated establishment, be sure to check if the owner will be in, it affects the quality.
      Latah Bistro, David's Blog: http://thebackkitchen.blogspot.com/. Follow the link to the restaurant home page. This one is especially a good view of the local food scene.
      Wild Sage American Bistro: http://www.wildsagebistro.com/ Chef Alexa has raised the bar in Spokane, and if you can get her to prepare something off menu, it will be a delight. We also enjoy Luna, Café Marron (owned by the same family), and Downriver Grill. But you asked for fine dining recommendations, right?

      Clinkerdaggers is solid, but also consider a new spot, Churchill's Steakhouse in downtown Spokane. It is priced pretty 'up there' for the Spokane market, tailored to the expense account customer. Sure hope they've got staying power. I'd skip the Palm Court if you're looking for better than average. The dining room has been renamed the Palm Court Grill and last I checked they were considering featuring the Palm Court Hot Dog. <shudder> Outside of Spokane we have enjoyed Beverly's at the CDA Resort, with probably the nicest wine selection in the area. Beverly's Sommelier, Eric Cook, has his fingerprints on the cellars at the Palm Court and also Huckleberries (a organic food store), often you can find great bargains. In fact, Coeur d'Alene may have a couple more hidden gems. The last time we drove through we were stunned to see many cranes, condos for sale, and lots of tourist activities. Good food usually follows. There is a high end golf enclave near CDA catering to celebrities and sports notables. Surely there's good eats too!

      It's a great time to enjoy the Spokane area dining scene, as a diner you get to know the chef, his strengths and weaknesses. It is fun to find he's saved his last Barrister '04 Cabernet Franc just for you, or maybe has an Apricot filled Dacquoise tonight because he knows you love apricots. We're in the early stages of a promising food culture, sounds like you and your wife would make a good addition to the mix.
      Colleen

      1. Bill,

        I retired after 12 years owning and operating restaurants in Southern California, I am a retired chef, trained at the CIA so perhaps I can give you some helpful suggestions.

        In all honesty there is NO fine dining in Spokane, some upper class restaurants, but nothing that would rate as fine dining. Beverly’s in the CDA resort tries to be the finest dining in town and they do present well and the wine list is excellent, but the food is just average hotel food.

        Clinkerdaggers is hardly what I would consider fine dining; it’s quaint and nostalgic with average food that is highly overpriced. Most of our friends and relatives who visit quickly label Spokane a culinary wasteland and it is. Sure there are some restaurateurs trying but with limited success.

        As far as wine goes, it is sad up here, there are some good lists, like Beverley’s and Luna’s (but the food is not so good). I transported just over 700 bottles up here and sold 2K before I left and I am very sorry that I did.

        As far as corkage fees they range between $5 - $20 but you need to call the restaurant ahead of time. You will have fun when asking for almost no one knows what a corkage fee is.

        In all honesty if food is very important to you than Spokane will be a huge disappointment. We moved up for the four seasons, to own land, and enjoy the recreational activites. The biggest complaint we have is the food.

        I posted this before but it might help you

        Just our thoughts and recommendations on some restaurants.

        Good Restaurants

        Ambrosia
        Café Maron (Dinner only, lunches are disappointed)
        Catacombs
        Europa
        Fat Daddy’s (pizza and Italian)
        Gordy's Sichuan – The “only” good Chinese food in town.
        Hay J’s (It has been hit and miss but mostly hits)
        Italian Kitchen
        Latah
        Mizuna
        Moxie
        Picabu Neighborhood Bistro
        Spencer’s (Steaks - while the wolf lodge has the local following Spencer’s has better meat and is a more refined dining atmosphere)
        Steelhead Bar and Grille – Good for bar food.
        Vin Rouge – Panned by many people but we have had some very good meals there at a very reasonable price.
        Taste of India – Surprisingly authentic.
        The Elk – nothing fancy just good pub/bistro food.
        Thai on first (most Thai is good in this town)

        Just Average restaurants (these include most chains)

        Anthony’s
        Clinkerdaggers
        Lindaman’s (It’s a deli with prepared items that is very overpriced for what you get, but edible)
        Tomato Street
        Twigs (The one on the north side is very inconsistent while the one on the south hill has been good)

        Overrated popular places

        G.W. Hunters (Post Falls) – Huge local following for very plain and highly overpriced coffee shop food.

        Mama Mia’s – OMG the worst overcooked pasta with tinny tasting sauce, even our friends kids would not eat it, however calzones were awesome.

        Luna's – Great Wine list, service was excellent, food was okay (soup had rubbery crab, lamb had to be sent back three times and the cassoulette overpowered the flavors and the NY cheesecake was really a French style cheesecake, but what to you expect from what many consider Spokane’s finest dining restaurant) like I said food was okay after working out problems but not worth the money.

        Wild Sage - TERRIBLE, the manager actually told us that there was nothing wrong with the entree we were not going to eat, it was just that "the taste gets a little getting used to and most people do not like it the first time." Say WHAT, the apps were insipid with no flavor and we left very disappointed and hungry. This is the new IN place, and in Spokane all you need is to get this label and they can serve you dog-food on a plate and the locals will praise it as haute cuisine.

        White House (Post Falls) – Uhhhh huhhhh, If your motto is the more garlic the better it tastes than you will love this place. Forget about any nuances of food or al dente pasta. This is simply garlicky slop on a plate – not for us.

        SPECIAL SPOKANE WARNING

        Anything that pertains to be Chinese (except Gordy’s) stay away from, almost all Chinese food in this town is terrible, I mean really really bad.

        Mexican food is also a joke, although usually slightly more edible. The popular Casa De Oro is about authentic as Taco Bell, however let me assure you that taco Bell does taste better. There is perhaps one exception and that is De Leon foods, but they are more of a deli inside of a Mexican market than a real sit-down restaurant. They are the most authentic and best so far in Spokane.

        1 Reply
        1. re: RetiredChef

          I cannot say thank you enough. Looking over menus online is one thing, hearing from those, who know food, is another.

          Maybe I'll tell wife, that she needs to negotiate unlimited time in the corp. Citation, to head to Seattle, San Francisco and the like.

          I'll print out the recs. and take them along, should things progress that far. So far, I've posted to about six boards, as folk court her, but, so far, she's passed on all the offers. I'm doing my "homework" just in case she gets serious.

          Who knows, the same, or nearly, might well appear on another board, regarding another city. When an offer comes in, I hit CH first, the real estate sites, then the city's offical site, with maybe a little Wikipedia thrown in for good measure.

          I greatly appreciate the time that has been taken with these reviews and thoughts. I pass them along, usually in oral form, to the wife, just so she knows what an area has to offer. And, yes, food is very important to us. It, and wine, constitute about 60% of our travel, with golf a distant second.

          Thanks,
          Hunt

        2. I really like the newly opened Steam Plant Grill http://www.steamplantgrill.com. I had the halibut with coconut sauce recently and it was tasty. The restaurant is located in an old steam plant, just as you'd think, beautifully restored with a high tech firm on the top floor.

          Also try Cassano's for really nice Italian meats and cheeses. Antony's has a spectacular view but I prefer the food at Clinkerdaggers.

          I also like the two Greek restaurants in Post Falls: the White House and the Oval Office (same owner). For a romantic dinner, drive to Coeur d'Alene and try the Cedars (a floating restaurant) or the Coeur d'Alene Hotel.

          Spokane has far fewer chain restaurants than Phoenix; most are small and locally grown.

          1. Check out www.tasteeverythingonce.com
            The site been retired but there is a link to the restaurant review section~ lots of user reviews I have found helpful and links to the restaurants.

            Personal favorites are Hill's Someplace Else, The Italian Kitchen, Isabella's and Twigs Bistro.

            You also asked about wine shops~ Vino is right downtown and in the last year a chocolate shop (O.M.O) and cheese shop (Saunders) have opened next door. A great trio!

            1 Reply
            1. re: washingtonred

              Thanks for the link and the wine shop info. I'll be checking these out.

              Hunt