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Fresh & amp;amp; Tasty 

by Ann M. Colford, Susan Hamilton & amp; Christina Kelly & r & & r & Spread It Thick DINNER & r & The guys at the Spread kicked off my evening on a giddy note when Kevin, the bartender, asked to see my identification. I thought he was joking. But, no, he really wanted to see official proof from the state of Washington that I'm over 21. Understand: When the state's youngest legal drinkers wore swaddling clothes, I'd been out of college for five years. I told Kevin it was the best tactic I'd seen to angle for a good tip.

But the food at the Spread is what everyone is talking about -- at least anyone who's sampled the plates put out by executive chef and co-owner Matt Irvin. He and partner Joe Golhier spent nearly three months transforming the former B-Side space with all new floors, booths, tables, artwork and totally updated restrooms; they opened in April.

We began with the ahi tuna appetizer, a sculptural visual delight. Slices of sesame seared ahi fanned out from a cylindrical tower of browned parm-romano with basil and red peppers, accented by a heap of pickled ginger, a generous swirl of wasabi, capers and a balsamic reduction. Seemed a shame to destroy Irvin's artistic vision by eating it, but that didn't stop us. Call it collateral damage.

When the cedar-plank salmon special arrived, flames danced from the corner of the plank, wafting the heady scent of wood smoke over the savory grilled vegetables and peppery rice blend that accompanied it. A slice of rich, melted Brie topped the sizzling salmon; the side blend of zucchini, roasted red peppers and saut & eacute;ed spinach was good enough to achieve co-star billing in my book. And that's saying something, because the wild Alaskan sockeye was some of the best I've ever had. Really.

The menu is small and manageable, focusing on sandwiches, salads, wraps and appetizers, but Irvin mixes things up with two daily specials: one beef, one seafood. For now, a visit to the Spread is a dinnertime thing, but Irvin plans to opens up for lunch in the near future. -- Ann M. Colford

The Spread, 230 W. Riverside Ave., is open Tue-Sun, 4 pm-2 am; the full menu is available till 10 pm, with bar snacks from 10 pm-2 am. Call 456-4515.

Roll Out the Barrel WINE & r & Just in time for Mother's Day weekend, the Spokane Winery Association's annual Spring Barrel Tasting marks the start of a new wine year at 10 regional wineries. It's the end of the winemaking season and an opportunity to taste up-and-coming wines right out of the barrels and sorting tanks. Tasters may also sample newly bottled wines from older vintages. Each winery will offer assorted foods, cheese and breads, along with arts and crafts at some locations. Winemakers will be on hand to answer questions and talk about the upcoming season. A map of Spokane wineries is provided at each winery. -- Christina Kelly

The Spring Barrel Tasting runs Fri-Sun, May 12-14, from 11 am-5 pm at the following local wineries: Arbor Crest, Barrister, Caterina, Grande Ronde Cellars, Knipprath, Latah Creek, Lone Canary, Mountain Dome, Robert Karl and Townshend Cellars.

Another Branch DINING & r & "Spokane has a high percentage of restaurants per capita for a city this size," Donna Tikker, area coordinator for the Washington Restaurant Association's Spokane Chapter told me. That was three years ago, and it's still true.

While chatting in the newly opened Twigs Bistro on the South Hill last week with Trevor Blackwell, co-owner, and Mike Shea, general manager, this same topic came up. I wondered why another Twigs when the Blackwell family already has downtown and north-side locations.

"The two we have are going well," Blackwell says. "It's that much better up here at the Village at Regal Pond with the location and ambiance."

Twigs occupies the larger building of the new Tuscan retail center, which is reminiscent of an Italian piazza and built around a large outdoor fountain and tranquil pond. The gold of the exterior is carried into the interior of the restaurant, accented with black, brown, leather and rattan. An oversized orange silk lamp dominates the main dining room like a long flower beginning to bloom. A double-sided fireplace separates this dining room from the extensive bar, dotted with thousands of fiber-optic lights that twinkle in the dark. The patio is already a popular spot, with seating next to the water, a fireplace and chef's barbecue.

"We're offering the same menu and pricing as our north-side location," Blackwell says. "Our brick-fired pizza oven allows us to expand our pizza menu."

Indeed, the array of pizzas is impressive. The white truffle prosciutto, chipotle chicken and spicy shrimp and asparagus are a few of Twigs' intriguing pizzas. Executive Chef Seth Porter has introduced new dishes for spring. The ginger citrus salmon replaces Twigs' well-known drunken salmon entr & eacute;e. Wild mushroom risotto, pan-seared mahi mahi and tenderloin medallions are more new entrees. Porter's summer prawn pasta is a delicious new salad, with jumbo prawns, penne pasta, artichoke hearts, shaved parmesan, tomatoes and spinach tossed with a lemon vinaigrette. Raspberry baked brie is Twigs' new appetizer.

Inlander readers voted Twigs' the best martini bar this year, and for good reason. With 24 signature martinis, Twigs offers a wide selection that changes monthly. But don't worry; the ultimate lemon drop and caramel appletini are mainstays at Twigs. -- Susan Hamilton

Twigs Bistro, 4320 S. Regal St., is open daily from 11 am-midnight. Call 443-8000.

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