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Fresh & amp;amp; Tasty 

by Susan Hamilton and Ann M. Colford & r & & r & Bistro Experience DINING OUT & r & A bistro embodies a centuries-old Gallic love of food. Its ambience is of conviviality and pleasure, with patrons clustered around tables holding forth on topics ranging from politics to cinema. Its fare is hearty and rustic -- aromatic meats awash in sauces, golden chickens fragrant with garlic and rosemary -- accompanied by flavorful wines. It's no wonder that bistros have become so popular in the Inland Northwest and across America.

A newly opened restaurant in downtown Spokane, Wild Sage, offers an avant-garde bistro experience. "We're small and intimate," says owner Tom Sciortino. "It's about breaking bread together and sharing with friends."

Wild Sage's d & eacute;cor is conducive to that intimacy, with original brick walls dating back to 1911, light flooding in from the large, street-side windows, granite tables and organic light fixtures -- all complemented by earthy tones. The neighborhood is up and coming, just like the bistro -- the SoDa (south of the Davenport) district, as Sciortino calls it.

American contemporary cuisine is Wild Sage's culinary signature. Executive Chef Alexa Wilson brings her rich experience from Portland's Cordon Bleu, Seattle's Four Seasons Olympic Hotel and Spokane's Davenport Hotel, Prospector's and Downriver Grill. "It's simple, flavor-forward cooking," Wilson says. "I can't slice, chop or puree anything better than Mother Nature grew out of the ground."

Wild Sage's menu features natural and organic products, many of which are hand-selected and scratch-baked. Wilson hand carves the bistro's steaks, and even the croissants are made in-house. The dinner menu features a long-bone short rib with merlot gravy and white cheddar grits, charred peppercorn-style ahi with cognac sauce and saut & eacute;ed veal cutlets with sage and proscuitto ham. Small plates at Wild Sage are perfect for sharing and sampling with wine or cocktails from the bistro's scratch bar. Szechwan pepper-salt prawns with sweet chile sambal, steamed mahogany clams with green chile basil broth and a bread platter with artisan cheeses and spreads are a few of the innovative items. Starting this week, lunch brings a hand-carved turkey sandwich on cranberry baguette and peppercorn steak panini.

"We're taking traditional food and having fun with it," says Sciortino. And that's exactly the essence of the bistro experience. -- Susan Hamilton

Wild Sage American Bistro, 916 W. Second Ave., is open Mon-Sat 11 am-11 pm, Sun 2-10 pm. Call 456-7575.

The Fairest Scone of All COFFEE & r & I'm a sucker for a good scone. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it does have to be fresh. Used to be the only way I could get fresh-from-the-oven scones was to bake them myself. But that was before I discovered Black Tie Coffee in Lincoln Heights, next door to Miller's Hardware. On a recent drizzly morning, I stopped by and treated myself to the featured scone of the week: whole-wheat coconut raisin. Buttery, not too sweet, crumbly without being dry, and holding just a hint of peanut butter, the scone had been baked to golden goodness less than half an hour before it landed on my plate.

When owner Tom Wood opened Black Tie Coffee last summer, he picked three things -- coffee, tea and scones -- to build his business around. Years of experience as a barista with Rocket Bakery prepared him for the coffee end of the business; he uses Doma Coffee for every coffee drink from the standard drip to blended smoothie-like specialties. For tea lovers, he stocks a selection of Luxe teas, available in either loose leaf or silk tea sachets, along with yerba mate and chai.

But it's the scones that set Black Tie apart from other shops. Wood and his team carry four regular varieties -- Wild Berry Lemon, Glazed Cinnamon, Orange Cream, and the Black Tie Scone, a study in chocolate-orange decadence -- and rotate in different flavors with their featured scone. Everything is baked fresh on the premises.

"We bake them as we sell them," Wood says, "so we end up baking a batch about every hour."

Business has grown steadily, says Wood. Although the seating space is relatively small, Black Tie does a brisk drive-thru business. And this month, they're opening their second location in Post Falls -- just off the freeway on Spokane Street, next to Hunters. Visit the Post Falls location during the grand opening weekend April 21-23 and get a free scone with the purchase of any coffee drink.

Wood knows the allure of a fresh scone will distinguish Black Tie from everyone else in the saturated coffee business. "Product is everything," he says. -- Ann M. Colford

Black Tie Coffee Co. at 2910 E. 29th Ave. is open Mon-Sat 6 am-6 pm, Sun 7 am-5 pm. The Post Falls location at 621 N. Spokane St. opens in mid-April. Visit Call 868-3219 or 535-2TIE.

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