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Art on the Side 

by Mike Corrigan


You'll find the MAC Cafe in a secluded back corner on the first floor of Spokane's Northwest Museum of Arts & amp; Culture -- boasting the best seats in the house. From the chrome and frosted green glass tables and seductively formed plywood chairs, you get great, unobstructed views of the amphitheater below and of north Spokane across the river gorge. It's bright and sparkling and surrounded by yards and yards of glass, which allows the natural light to pour in all around you. Not surprisingly, the art in here ain't bad either. On a recent trip, we spied a trio of Melissa Cole's colorful salmon paintings and several installations featuring pieces of owner Deb Green's own vintage Fiesta Ware collection.


Menu items are pretty much what you'd expect from a caf & eacute; geared to the lunch crowd, starting with soups like the house tomato basil bisque and a rotating chef's special ($2.50 a cup), salads like the Caesar ($5, $7 with the addition of smoked salmon or grilled chicken), the Greek ($5.50) and usually a pasta salad. Specialty sandwiches (all served with your choice of soup or salad) include a grilled balsamic roasted asparagus, red pepper, basil pesto and fontina cheese veggie ($7.50), a turkey with havarti, apples, greens and herbed mayo ($6.25) and an actual Monte Cristo -- you don't come across those very often -- with ham, turkey, Swiss and served with raspberry preserves ($6.75). You can also build your own sandwich ($5). There's a daily selection of assorted house-baked scones, muffins, breads, pastries and other sweet and savory bits in the glass case ($1.50-$2) that would work for breakfast, and a thoughtful kid-friendly menu, too: Kids' lunches are served with a banana and chips for $2.95.


Then there are the daily specials. We noted the pastrami and Swiss on rye combo for $6.95 before one of us opted for the roast vegetable lasagna with a side of pesto pea and bowtie pasta salad for $6.50. This was exactly what was promised: roasted vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, carrots) nestled in ruffled waves of pasta with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses layered throughout. The tomato-based sauce was delicious and provided a perfectly satisfying lasagna experience. The pesto pea pasta was as refreshing as springtime itself. The combination of green peas, pasta, parmesan, pesto and toasted pine nuts was light yet more than filling.


For my part, I couldn't take my eyes off that smoked pork tenderloin sandwich (a regular menu feature, by the way) on grilled bread with cabbage slaw, sweet onion, bacon bits, honey Dijon and apple cider dressing for $7.50. Fortunately, it, too, lived up to the irresistibility of its description. The sliced roast pork itself was exquisitely moist and tender -- and there was a lot of it, folded and tucked into the crunchy grilled bread. The flavor profile was a hit, too: slightly sweet, slightly spicy with the unexpected ('cause it wasn't listed as an ingredient) addition of melted mild white cheese -- mozzarella, perhaps? Quite excellent. My side of Mexican chicken tortilla soup was packed with corn, tomatoes, peppers, black beans, carrots and tiny bits of chicken flesh. Less of a tortilla soup than a minestrone, but still yummy.


And another thing: Do people really give a hoot about the quality of the iced tea they order with lunch, or is it just a given that it's never going to be as good as the stuff you make at home? Well, I do. And I gotta say the iced tea at the MAC Caf & eacute; blew me away. For the record, it was strong, obviously fresh-brewed, appropriately iced down and served with a lemon slice for zing. Proprietor and chef Deb Green (also owner of Shake, Rattle and Boil Catering) obviously spends a lot of time and attention getting the details like that nailed down. The ingredients we encountered on our trip were of uniformly superior quality. The presentation was a delight. The people were friendly and efficient. And the cr & egrave;me brulee we ordered from the day's dessert selection -- Green said she had just made dozens of them for an event she was catering -- was one of the best damn things I have ever put in my mouth. Really.





Publication date: 04/29/04

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