& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ometimes beauty is only on the surface, but that's not the case with the handmade chocolate-covered strawberries from VERY VERY STRAWBERRY.
Stephanie Baker (who's also our advertising assistant here at The Inlander) selects gorgeous oversized strawberries and dips them by hand into white or dark chocolate (or sometimes both). Some of the berries get adorned with sliced almonds or shredded coconut or even mini chocolate chips, then she arranges them on a silver tray. Prices start at $20 for six luscious decorated berries, delivered for Valentine's Day. Beats the usual heart-shaped box of chocolates, dude. (Call 443-6248.) -- ANN M. COLFORD
DINING Slavic Soul Food
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & iverside Avenue is a long way from Kazakhstan. But distance is just one measure of how long the journey has been for George and Victor Yefremov, the father-and-son team behind PARADISE RESTAURANT, now open in the former China Best space. Along with third partner Ivan Kravtsov (also their pastor) and a chef who used to create meals for vacationing Russian dignitaries, they hope to bring the diverse flavors from across the sprawling former Soviet Union to their adopted home here in Spokane.
"We want to bring foods here where people can come and try exotic dishes," says Victor, translating George's words from his native Russian. "These are foods well known in Russia and France. We're seeking to restore old European recipes and bring them to Spokane."
One specialty is pelemeni, savory beef dumplings that are sort of the Eastern European cousins of tortellini. Soft noodle dough envelops a meat filling that's richly flavored with onions and spices. On the day I dropped in, Victor offered a lunch special of salad, soup and a small order of pelemeni, all for $7. The salad was a crisply fresh Greek-style salad of cucumber, tomato, red pepper and leaf lettuce in a refreshing lemony dressing; soup is either borsch or mushroom and bacon.
The dinner menu includes steaks (about $20), grilled lamb ($26) and the Kiev's Cutlet ($16), thin chicken cutlets filled with Russian sausage and cheese. Victor and George are working on the wine selections, bringing in unusual wines from Europe and elsewhere to complement their cuisine.
With the meal, try the Armenian coffee, a creamy treat prepared in a special metal pot called a jesveh. (Think a breve made with thick, strong coffee prepared in the Turkish manner.) And save room for baklava -- here, with the nuts and honey rolled up into little cylinders of dough.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
Paradise Restaurant, at 226 W. Riverside Ave., is open Mon-Fri 11 am-10 pm, Sat-Sun 3 pm-9 pm. Call 747-5620.
DINING Mediterranean Getaway
Who doesn't dream of sun-swept isles and azure seas to escape the Inland Northwest's dreary, winter grayness? If you can't afford an Aegean cruise, an evening at a Mediterranean restaurant is the next best -- and closest -- thing.
A newly opened north-side restaurant delivers just that. OPA features Greek and Italian cuisine that's "food for the gods!" as its menu proclaims. Co-owner Steve Dimitriadis has 38 years of restaurant experience with his former establishments in Reno, San Francisco, Phoenix and Seattle.
"In 1980, my pizza was named the greatest in the world by food critics from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Europe," he proclaims. He says he learned how to cook from his Sicilian grandmother. "I was born with a ladle in my hand."
Dimitriadis' exuberance shows in his extensive dinner menu ($6-$22). Appetizers are perfect for sharing with a glass or bottle of Greek, Italian, Californian or Washington wine or beer. The Greek Meze offers an introduction to Greek food -- gyro, spanakopita, tyropita, dolmades, tzatziki, kalamata olives, feta, tomatoes and cucumbers. The dramatic saganaki of feta with butter/lemon/wine/garlic sauce and pita bread is served flaming.
The menu features a variety of gyro sandwiches with lamb, beef, chicken, shrimp or veggies. Souvlaki meat kabobs are served with tzatziki sauce, Greek salad and handmade pita bread, while the spanakopita's layers of flaky filo dough enfold a rich, savory filling of spinach and feta.
On the Italian side, diners will find myriad pastas from spaghetti and ravioli to lasagna and manicotti. Chicken pesto, parmesan, primavera and marsalla as well as shrimp scampi are also featured. Panini-grilled sandwiches are filled with a variety of meats, cheeses and veggies. Pizza is made fresh daily, Sicilian-style with a variety of ingredients and thin or thick crusts. Hot sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts are Dimitriadis' special recipes.
True to its name, Opa ("happy" in Greek) offers diners the tradition of Mediterranean hospitality in the cozy dining room, with blue textured walls bedecked with photos of Greece and Italy, lacquered wood tables, welcoming fireplace and infectious Greek music.
-- SUSAN HAMILTON
Opa, 10411 N. Newport Hwy., is open Mon-Thurs 4-9:30 pm, Fri-Sat 4-10 pm. Call 464-1442.