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Fresh & amp;amp; Tasty 

by SUSAN HAMILTON and ANN COLFORD & r & & r &


DINING A Cut Above


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t seems there's no dearth of fast-food options in Spokane Valley, especially along busy Sprague Avenue. Finding restaurants that serve meals a cut above is a different story. Recently opened AMBROSIA BISTRO & amp; WINE BAR offers a finer option for Valley diners.





"There really aren't that many good places to eat in the Valley," says owner Scott Cook, adding that Ambrosia is a family-owned neighborhood bistro that's not too formal and serves good food -- the essence of a French bistro. The wine bar concept has been in the works for many years, finally finding a home when the former Harvester restaurant vacated its spot in Argonne Village. "Ambrosia is close to businesses and residential areas" both, adds Cook.





Ambrosia's d & eacute;cor is tr & egrave;s chic, with bright colors and intimate lighting. The food is based on dishes Cook developed over 24 years in the restaurant business as a chef and manager of area eateries ranging from Smith Brothers and Papagayo's to Cyrus O'Leary's and Chili's. Starting next month, Jeremiah Timmons, former sous chef at Latah Bistro, will take over kitchen duties from Cook.





Eclectic lunch and dinner menu items include small plates ($7-$12), like sesame-crusted ahi and bruschetta with marinated tomatoes, olives, capers, basil and chevre. Soups and salads ($3-$12) range from French onion to the popular Ambrosia salad with mixed greens, walnuts, dried cranberries, feta, red onions and wild raspberry vinaigrette. Paninis and sandwiches ($8-$10) feature Mediterranean chicken with olive tapenade, chevre and sun-dried tomato mayo or Argentine steak, marinated, grilled and served with smoked provolone, fire-roasted red peppers and ancho-chile mayo.





Lunch entr & eacute;es ($10-$12) are for pasta lovers -- Cajun with andouille sausage and shrimp, classic Alfredo and Mediterranean chicken with red sauce. At dinner, entr & eacute;es take center stage ($12-19), showcasing salmon baked Alaska, steak au poivre with mustard cream sauce and butternut squash ravioli.


As with any good wine bar, Ambrosia has a fine list of 40 vintages. "We're focusing on Northwest wines, including Yakima Cellars," Cook says. "We also have a full bar with martinis, draft beef and wine by the glass."





-- SUSAN HAMILTON





Ambrosia Bistro & amp; Wine Bar, 9112 E. Montgomery Ave., is open Mon-Thu 11 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-11 pm. Call 928-3222.








CAF & Eacute; SCENE The Empyrean Rises


Last month, music editor Luke Baumgarten noted the reopening of EMPYREAN coffee shop in the Music section, and music scenesters rejoiced at the return of a favorite venue. But there's more to Empyrean than the music scene -- a lot of us loved the welcoming atmosphere created there by former owners Alex and Shae Caruso. It was a place to drop in and hang out and feel comfortable, while grabbing some coffee or a snack.





Now, new owners (and sisters) Chrissy and Michelle Riddle -- along with baristas Zac and Brian -- are trying to recreate that home-away-from-home feeling in the space. They've tried to maintain a similar lineup of food and drink as before, and they're now opening earlier in the morning and on Sundays to capture the coffee-and-snacks crowd.





"We try to keep things the same, because there are a lot of committed customers," Chrissy explains. "And everyone loves certain things."





Anvil coffee from the Shop on Perry is still the coffee of choice, and tea from Harney Brothers rounds out the hot drinks selection. (They'll offer beer and wine as soon as their liquor license comes through.) Rocket Bakery is providing the bagels, along with pre-made sandwiches -- usually ham, turkey and vegetarian, plus a couple of different croissant sandwiches. For baked goods, the Riddles opted to go with the relative newcomers at Polo's Caf & eacute;, in the Flour Mill.





"We're experimenting with what we get," says Chrissy. "They have seven-layer bars, raspberry-oat bar, brownies, lemon tarts -- and their yogurt parfaits are really good."





Michelle's background is in social services and Chrissy teaches English and history at Central Valley High School, so they're both on a rapid learning curve in the coffee shop business. "I have no background in coffee other than I love it," Chrissy says. "I love really good coffee, I love hanging out in coffee shops and writing, and I've always dreamed of doing something like this."





So she's got the knowing-what-the-customer-wants part down? "Yes, I know that end of it really well," she laughs.





-- ANN M. COLFORD





Empyrean, at 154 S. Madison St., is open Mon-Thu 9 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 9 am-11 pm and Sun 10 am-6 pm. Call 838-9819.

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