For those of us who consider ourselves budget-conscious eaters, finding justification for a night of decadent eating at one of the Inland Northwest's many fine dining restaurants might be few and far between, but don't let that be discouraging. There are more reasons than an anniversary or graduation to indulge in something from the entrée menu versus the happy-hour appetizers list.
In the shadow of the federal government shutdown and continuing recession woes, dining out — especially somewhere fancy and higher-priced — is something many may choose to cut back on, yet data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that industry sales and employment both continue to rise year after year. It's also of interest to note that a 2013 survey by the NRA shows that 79 percent of adults who eat out would considering dining out more if prices were lower during non-peak hours.
We hear ya, so we called, searched and scoured the websites of as many local fine-dining restaurants we could think of to bring you this roundup of lesser-known, wallet-friendly specials. If you've been meaning to try out any of the establishments mentioned below, now's your chance. Just remember to tip well, because even though you're getting a discount on your meal, there's no expectation the service will be any less.
Rain Lounge | 1007 W. First Ave.
Rain Lounge, the swanky cocktail counterpart of Scratch restaurant next door, may be known for its substantial drink menu and cheekily named signature cocktails (the Shark Bite, the Daisy Duke), but there's another, less-talked-about special at Rain every week offering customers the chance try Scratch's upscale dinner entrée menu for half-price. Thursday from 6-9 pm, Rain patrons who order a drink from the bar can order off Scratch's dinner entrée menu for half off the regular price. It's a great way to try out some of the savory, eclectic dishes Scratch is known for, like the cedar plank halibut (regular price $24) or the popular hot pot, which comes with land and sea fare in a savory, spicy tomato broth (regular price $26). Other dinner entrées include citrus-seared salmon, pistachio-crusted pork loin and a ribeye steak and shrimp. With the half-off special, most entrées end up well under $20.
Scratch co-owner Connie Naccarato is quick to point out that Rain's dining experience is not what you'll get next door at Scratch's linen-covered tables. It's bound to be a busy night, too, so you may have to settle for eating at the bar top or a low sofa and coffee table in one of the lounge's cozy nooks. Nonetheless, the food is the same being served next door, and is well worth the price.
Bonsai Bistro | 101 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene
Across from the scenic Coeur d'Alene Resort, Bonsai Bistro is a popular spot for resort-goers and locals to get top-notch sushi and Pan-Asian cuisine featuring a blend of Chinese, Japanese and other Asian styles and flavors. This time of year, Inland Northwest sushi lovers can rejoice: during the resort's off-season, Bonsai's famous Thursday all-you-can-eat sushi day (11 am-9 pm) goes from $35 per person to $29, and kids under 10 eat free with a paying adult. Be aware of a few rules for this special, outlined on the menu. Everyone eating sushi at your table pays the $29 all-you-can-eat price, and no take-home boxes are allowed — you order it, you eat it in-house.
As long as you take these into consideration, the dining experience should (pun intended) roll on smoothly. Sushi included on the Thursday night menu includes lots of traditional favorites: salmon roll, avocado roll, spicy tuna, tempura rolls, and several veggie-friendly options. Nigiri sushi is also offered, from mackerel, squid and salmon to escolar and yellowtail. Bonsai also offers a range of hot items and salads to complement its sushi. It's recommended that diners munch on these items in between orders of sushi, which can take a little longer to prepare. ♦
Churchill's Steakhouse | 165 S. Post St.
Wednesday nights in Churchill's basement level lounge are always busy for "Wimpy Wednesdays," when all burgers are $7. Seating is limited, so be prepared to wait for a seat or get there early.
Davenport Hotel | 10 S. Post St.
Downtown-area workers are well-versed in the Davenport's great $6 lunch specials offered daily (11 am-2 pm) in the Safari Room. Later, the hotel lobby offers Happy Hour from 4-6 pm with half off drinks and all flatbreads.
Anthony's at Spokane Falls | 510 N. Lincoln St.
During the week, and especially appropriate in the fall and winter months when the dark creeps up earlier on us every day, Anthony's offers its popular sunset dinners featuring a four-course fixed-price meal for just $19.95.
Cedars Floating Restaurant | 1514 N. Marina Dr., Coeur d'Alene
Part of the Coeur d'Alene Resort's collection of fine dining restaurants, Cedars is a place many reserve for fancy affairs, but from 4 to 6 pm, sample some of the dinner menu's items for less, such as the 10 oz. Prime Rib for $18.95, discounted from a regular price of $23.