by LAUREN McALLISTER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & ourth Street in Coeur d'Alene doesn't have quite the cachet of nearby Sherman Ave., with its strolling tourists, and vibrant mix of retail and restaurants. But Fourth St. is developing an interesting neighborhood feel of its own. Original storefronts lining the street are being reclaimed for unique uses. There's the Shabby to Chic Shoppe with recast cast-offs. The Paris Flea Market showcases new and consignment pieces with a European flair, in a little bungalow. Butterfly Gardens looks like the hippie hangout the name suggests -- with tie-dyed flowing skirts and tops in the display window.
Angelo's Ristorante is one of the anchors of the neighborhood, housed in a little brick building, a block from its sister restaurant, Bambino's. As we parked in front, the sounds of a tenor aria wafted over the fence surrounding the outdoor patio, which wasn't open for seating on the warm evening we visited. But the air-conditioned interior of the restaurant did feel pleasant. The walls are decked in nostalgic Italiana: A jumbo-sized portrait of Pavarotti burst forth from one wall, while painted statuettes and Catholic icons kept watch over the room. Interior lighting was dim to the point of being dark -- I had to lean over under a light to read the menu.
I was delighted that Angelo's features handcrafted foods, using organic ingredients if possible. For starters the list includes calamari saltate ($8.50) with a zesty fresh tomato sauce that was almost irresistible. On the other hand, antipasto misto ($10.50) is always a good way to sample some of the chef's favorite flavors. A third option was perhaps the most creative -- grilled eggplant parcels with goat cheese, basil, tomato and pine nuts in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette.
But we were seduced by the crab cake appetizer special. Two little cakes arrived on a bed of arugula, with a drizzle of aioli and mango cubes. The cakes were breaded and deep-fried, leading to a thick, crunchy, but greasy crust. Inside, the crab was thoroughly blended leaving no luscious lumps of meat, and I was surprised to find a tiny shrimp in the mix as well. That thick crust didn't serve to enhance the delicate flavor of the crab, nor did the bland aioli. Missing was a contrasting flavor -- a hint of spicy heat or a bright touch of lemon to cut through the rich breading and creamy crab mixture. Another disappointment was our little plate of focaccia bread, which was hard and dry and little improved after a dip in the balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the table.
The list of entr & eacute;es is impressive -- numerous selections under the headings of pasta, chicken, veal, seafood and steaks. I chose the chicken milano alla griglia ($21). The entr & eacute;e price includes a salad, and I opted for the house green salad with creamy Gorgonzola dressing on the side. I really liked the little wedge of casero cheese and slice of salami on the plate. The red cabbage tossed in with the greens was a bit brown, but the flower-shaped carrot slices were a cute touch.
The chicken entr & eacute;e was beautifully plated, with fresh green beans and a little fried mashed potato cake as accompaniments. The chicken breast was sliced thin and grilled, and served over arugula. The chicken had a nice topping of capers and a wee bit of diced tomato, but it was much too salty. The fresh green beans were also salty, but maintained a nice crisp texture. This would have been a very pleasant entr & eacute;e, if not for the overpowering saltiness.
More successful was my companion's lobster ravioli ($21). The pasta pillows were al dente and filled with a small amount of flavorful lobster. Flamed in vodka and served with a creamy tomato sauce, this is one of the few dishes I've had in which the lobster flavor sparkled even amongst other flavors. For an additional $7, we tried a half order of the grilled polenta cake salad, with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and a lump of creamy goat cheese. This was a filling but yummy concoction -- although the up-charge seemed steep, given that a green salad is included with entrees and listed at $5 on the menu.
The penne de pollo ($21) came highly recommended by our server and it sounds like a winner -- chicken with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh arugula in a Gorgonzola cream sauce. The veal parmigiano ($24) also sounds delicious, with provolone cheese and tomato sauce accompanying a breaded veal cutlet.
On this occasion we also happened to have a young diner with us. While there is no children's menu, I got to sample the spaghetti with meatball ($8 for a kid portion). The sauce was rich and zesty and the big meatball was tasty too.
Desserts are made on the premises, and we sampled the cr & egrave;me br & ucirc;l & eacute;e and a tiramisu. Both were rich and creamy and not too sweet.
Service was pleasant but somewhat reserved throughout the evening. With so many families dining out -- there was at least one other family with children on the night we visited -- it is the rare restaurant that doesn't offer something special for young diners. It would have been a nice gesture to include a drink or little dessert for the price. Also, especially at a restaurant touting its use of organic ingredients, it would be fun for diners to see where things on the menu come from -- more in-depth descriptions would help to validate the slightly higher than average prices.