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Spokane - Fine Dining Recs?

Bill Hunt Sep 30, 2007 07:38 PM

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. d
    dragonfare RE: Bill Hunt Sep 30, 2007 07:58 PM

    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
      Bill Hunt RE: dragonfare Sep 30, 2007 08:43 PM

      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
        d
        dragonfare RE: Bill Hunt Sep 30, 2007 09:16 PM

        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
          Bill Hunt RE: dragonfare Oct 1, 2007 08:00 AM

          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. c
      colleend RE: Bill Hunt Oct 1, 2007 04:45 PM

      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. RetiredChef RE: Bill Hunt Oct 2, 2007 01:25 PM

        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
          Bill Hunt RE: RetiredChef Oct 2, 2007 06:30 PM

          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
          Italian Woman RE: Bill Hunt Oct 9, 2007 12:40 PM

          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. washingtonred RE: Bill Hunt Oct 16, 2007 11:30 AM

            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
              Bill Hunt RE: washingtonred Oct 16, 2007 07:10 PM

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

              Hunt

            2. s
              salud RE: Bill Hunt Oct 16, 2007 09:04 PM

              My wife and I moved to Spokane from Miami and also hold residence in Lima, Peru. I grew up in Spokane and my wife in Lima. We have no children and have spent years going to amazing restaurants in Miami, South America and other regions. I have to tell you that you are going to love Spokane. Not because the culinary choices are up to par always with the larger markets (although quality and quantity are growing each year) but because of the community and lifestyle here. Our urban core is going through a fantastic explosion right now and carries ultimate promise in the upcoming years. My thoughts on the people that complain about this city is to move and go to a city you believe in and will support. As far as a few thoughts for food:

              If your looking for a great wine list I'm surprised no one has referred you to Niko's Greek Restaurant. They have the largest wine list in the northwest behind one Seattle restaurant if I remember right. You can see their entire wine list online inside their menu button. Check out their website at http://www.nikosspokane.com.

              Also Churchills just opened up on Post Street downtown and they are one of the only places in the northwest that dry-age their meats onsite and required to stock $100k+ in meat stock to do so. They rival Spencers and have a far superior atmosphere including a private cigar club downstairs that is quite plush.

              Gonzo Carrillo, the culinary director for Cuisine Northwest, a restaurant group here in town that manages several establishments is a world renown chef that has cooked for a lot of high profile clients around the world. I don't think their full websites have launched but you can check out http://www.cuisineflair.com for now to get some info. I know they are about a month out from launching all of their online projects.

              If you want great Thai food there is a place in Airway Heights a town about 10 minutes from downtown and near the airport, (which has always been a little on the dumpy side until recent years when they started doing major real estate developing out there) It's Sala Thai right across the street from Yokes grocery store. Total hole in the wall but great food! I also heard that Rainbow Sushi out there is supposed to be some of the best sushi in our area although I have not been there.

              There are alot of great cafes and bakeries around the south hill and downtown area and if you guys like nightlife there is a growing selection of places for that also. Probably one of the busiest martini lounges is Bistango in downtown
              http://www.bistangolounge.com

              Salud!

              1. j
                jill4 RE: Bill Hunt Dec 12, 2007 07:12 AM

                Hi Bill,

                Having lived in Spokane for 30 some years and being a foodie that has dined around the world, I can honestly say we are geting better here! When I first can here the food was, well, pretty bad with no diversity. Now there are many new restaurants with some great tastes. And as to wine....we are excelling! The 12 or so small wineries here are winning awards and producing wines that equal the quality of much larger and better known areas.

                To take a visual tour of some of the area restaurants look at the http://www.experiencespokane.com/dining/ page. Many people have found it useful. Also there is a "wine tour" on that site which shows many of those fine little wineries at http://www.experiencespokane.com/wine... Hope that is helpful! Spokane is really a great place and it's true that the people here are friendly and welcoming.

                So welcome!

                1 Reply
                1. re: jill4
                  Bill Hunt RE: jill4 Jun 24, 2010 07:31 PM

                  Jill,

                  So sorry, as it has been 3 years now. I did not see your reply before, and apologize for getting to it so very late.

                  As fate would have it, my wife passed on the Spokane position, and for other reasons entirely.

                  We moved from NOLA to Denver, when it was in its dining-infancy, and struggled, as they came up the ranks. In the 20 years that we were there, dining in DEN rose in the ranks. I still miss some of the later restaurants, though we've lived in PHX for 13 years now.

                  When we arrived there, PHX was also on the way up, and we were here when they hit, what was probably their peak. Still some great spots here, but we still miss some of the DEN spots, though some are only history now.

                  Thank you for taking the time to comment, and again, I deeply apologize for not getting back to your comments.

                  Hunt

                2. c
                  chipqmunk RE: Bill Hunt Dec 13, 2007 11:45 PM

                  As someone who used to live in Spokane, I found Retired Chef's assessment a great read (well, it would be funny if it weren't so sadly true!). I don't profess to have an expert palate, but I know that once you've had the authentic version of certain foods, it's hard to go back to the Spokane version.

                  Don't waste your time trying to find big city fine dining. Spokane is the big city for a lot of rural small towns, and it's very family oriented, so many restaurant offerings are either bad because people don't know any better or they are chains that cater to family dining.

                  However, the region does have some nice things to offer. They may be fewer and farther apart than in a bigger city, but they are there. Your best bet is to focus on the small, interesting places and appreciate things like restaurants that make use of locally grown fruits and vegetables in season.

                  I have mentioned this elsewhere on the boards, but Thai Kitchen in the Spokane Valley on Pines Road is THE best Thai food in the area. The owners close for holidays at will, and the wait can be excruciating when you're hungry, but it's worth it.

                  I haven't tried every place on Retired Chef's list, but I can add my recommendations to Gordy's, Mizuna, Moxie, Taste of India and The Elk. I liked White House, but I like garlic in my Greek food.

                  This may be part of your previous convoluted trek, but Yakima and Walla Walla are both towns gaining notoriety for producing some quality wines, and they are within a few hours' drive from Spokane.

                  Also, you mentioned golf, and Spokane does have some nice courses.

                  1. s
                    shadrach RE: Bill Hunt Apr 5, 2009 04:21 AM

                    I'm surprised nobody mentioned Wolf's Lodge. It's a great steakhouse in the middle of nowhere that looks like an old barn but always has a line out the door.

                    The menu is very simple, as in all great restaurants, and the environment is eclectic and memorable.

                    Get a reservation, and you still might have to wait a bit.

                    1. s
                      Splenda RE: Bill Hunt Jun 24, 2010 03:23 PM

                      Spokane still isn't much of a foodie town, but improvements continue. Isabella's and Wild Sage are two good downtown dinner houses that have opened in the past two years (the braised lamb shank at Isabella's is a must). Sante' Bistro just opened downtown by Auntie's Books, and it's possibly the best lunch bistro in town (the burger is the best I've ever had, complete with a homemade ketchup and homemade soft cheese to die for).

                      The Steelhead is probably the best downtown bar, with consistently good pub food. And I'm surprised that no one mentioned the wine list at Nikko's, which is both voluminous and reasonably priced. (One local wine definitely worth its high price; Townsend T3, a meritage heavy on Cab Franc, but let it breathe.)

                      Thai? Opinions vary, but my fave is A Taste of Thai, up in the suburban north. Just the kind of high-quality 15-table cafe' you fined everywhere in larger cities, but rarely in Spokane.

                      Steak is great at Spencer's and Churchill's; aged prime beef and all that.

                      Still missing: Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Lebanese, great breakfast joints and first rate Northern Italian dining.

                      Avoid Clinkerdagger's, Tomato Street and all Chinese but Gordy's.

                      -----
                      A Taste of Thai
                      419 W Hastings Rd, Spokane, WA 99218

                      Sante
                      404 West Main, Spokane, WA 99201

                      Clinkerdagger
                      West 621 Mallon Street, Spokane, WA 99201

                      Tomato Street
                      6220 N Division St, Spokane, WA 99208

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Splenda
                        ritabwh RE: Splenda Jun 30, 2010 10:57 PM

                        queen of sheba for new ethiopian

                        1. re: ritabwh
                          Bill Hunt RE: ritabwh Jul 1, 2010 06:20 PM

                          Though my interest has moved to other parts of the US, I do hope that others will benefit from the great recs. offered up here.

                          I greatly appreciate this board's willingness to provide suggestions.

                          Thank you all,

                          Hunt

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