by CARRIE SCOZZARO & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hree Glasses should have been an easy review. This subterranean Sandpoint restaurant and wine bar exudes ambience with amber-colored walls, warm wood seating, Bill Reid on the piano playing "As Time Goes By." Owners John and Darcy Peters have labored with love to model Three Glasses after upscale places they've visited in their extensive travels. Their chef is authentic old-country from Torino, Italy, but with classic French training and a flair for incorporating local flavors like morel mushrooms and huckleberries. Past visits have yielded terrific meals like the charcuterie plate of bread, meat, both hard and soft cheeses, and olives ($18). It's a perfect complement to a full-bodied red and reasonably priced to share among friends. The braised pork shank with huckleberry sauce was mouth-watering, tender and bright with flavor ($24), and I've also had a handmade ravioli in sage and beef sauce that melted in my mouth ($18).
These past meals raised my expectations, however, and made my most recent dining experience at Three Glasses less than ideal, as I and my companion had one dish that was good, but not great, and another that was wholly disappointing.
Usually, we share small plates and appetizers, sometimes getting our own salads. On a past trip to Three Glasses, I'd had the Priest River organic green salad ($7), which was very good and one of the few regulars on their eclectic menu. Wanting to try something different -- and hardly adventurous enough to try the roasted beet and pepper salad with an anchovy fondue ($10) -- I convinced my partner we should split two entr & eacute;es.
The maltagliati -- it means badly cut and implies an assortment of shapes and sizes -- had that telltale homemade-pasta softness, light and moist. The sauce was a mixed seafood ragout of salmon, mahi mahi, a meager helping of shrimp, and rockfish, which was the most flavorful aspect of this dish. There was a subtle smokiness to the sauce, yet I easily could have withstood a stronger garlic or tomato accent. The dish was abundant and, at $21, almost enough to share between two.
For our second choice, the menu offered several tempting entr & eacute;es including the oven-roasted lamb loin chops on a winter vegetable puree ($29), fresh mahi mahi filet rolled in bread crumbs with a lemon marscapone sauce ($26) and chicken breast stuffed with roasted peppers and goat cheese with an herb velout & eacute; sauce ($23). We opted for the most expensive: buffalo straccetti seared with fresh asparagus and basil ($32). When it arrived, it was an unappealing grey-brown color and resembled a large plate of stir-fry minus the rice. The meat was occasionally chewy and lacked flavor, with a thin sauce that may have been just the juice from the meat. The asparagus was fresh but overdone, droopy where it ought to have been crisp, and whatever basil had been used in the dish was also either cooked out or underdeveloped.
The service, while prompt and attentive, lacked the sophistication one might expect in a place like Three Glasses, and our waiter seemed oblivious to the untouched portion of meat on my plate. He brought us more bread, which was delightful, hearty and fragrant with a savory herbed butter. Another treat was the dessert of crepes stuffed with strawberries and a caramel-thick Grand Marnier sauce ($7) that we could have licked off the plate.
When owner Darcy Peters happened by, however, she took our disappointment personally and, had we asked, probably would have had the chef prepare something different. She then ordered the dish for herself, because it was new on the menu and she had not yet tried it because she'd just returned from a family funeral. That, combined with the other hardships Peters and her husband have endured since the restaurant's opening last summer -- including the delay of their chef's arrival from Italy and, more recently, flooding that necessitated several months' closure while the floor was completely replaced -- points to the personal side of the business.
Many previous meals at Three Glasses have been good, so I'll happily return to try the small plates like eggplant parmigiana ($14) and seared ahi tuna rose with citrus and soy ($14). I'd also go back for their new "apertivio," or happy hour, Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 6:00 pm -- with $3 dishes like timbale of roasted eggplant, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella or asparagus rolled with ham and gruyere and $1 off bar drinks and wine by the glass.
Although obviously a restaurateur always hopes for a good review, Peters embodies the glass-is-half-full attitude: If the dish doesn't work, she says, she'll fix it. And that's enough for me.