CASUAL Beach Comfort & lt;BR & & lt;BR & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & igh on Spokane's South Hill, Dan and Debbie Barranti wanted to create a space where anyone could relax and be comfortable, no matter what their income or outlook. While many restaurants hope to inspire with the menu alone, LAGUNA CAF & Eacute; excels by inspiring comfort and relaxation with the ambience and overall dining experience and by understanding that everyone has a different need at different times. One day it's a casual lunch with friends; another time, it's a romantic dinner for two at a private table, or a quick stop for coffee and a whimsical gift, or perhaps to unwind with a glass of wine and surf the Internet.
The finely detailed d & eacute;cor, place settings, relaxing music and ambient lighting are welcoming, and service is exceptional. Each staff member is prepared to host, serve, prep and cook for your visit. They are knowledgeable, approachable and friendly.
We sampled the caf & eacute; and dinner menus, trying both the Tuscan chicken and provolone panini ($7) and the portobello-stuffed ravioli with sundried-tomato alfredo ($12). Both meals were full of flavor, complete with fresh herbs and hints of raw vegetables. The panini was especially filling and satisfying to the palate. The fresh alfredo sauce on the ravioli was fresh and not too thick, with subtle hints of red pepper and basil. The bread that accompanied our meal was hot and fresh, warmed after delivery from a local baker.
After our meal, Dan suggested an intriguing dessert/wine combo: the Big, Fat Chocolate Cake ($7), paired with La Capitana Carmenere ($7) from Chile. The smooth, flavorful wine with vanilla and plum tones came alive with this delicate, light chocolate cake. It was one of the best pairings I've ever tasted.
Every aspect of our visit was satisfying. Truly the owners of Laguna Caf & eacute; have paid attention to every detail, from the fine details of the table centerpieces to the perfect volume of the dining room speakers. They appeal with menu items that span from morning snacks to evening treats, well thought-out meals, and a good variety of wines. When you discover Laguna Caf & eacute;, you'll be telling your friends, "You've got to try this!"
-- MARY STOVER
Laguna Caf & eacute;, at 4304 S. Regal St., is open daily: Mon-Fri 6 am-9 pm, Sat 7:30 am-9 pm, and Sunday 8 am-8 pm. Fax to-go orders to 279-2651, or call 448-0887.
CASUAL The Wurst of It
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ofbrau is German for an informal type of dining, which is what you'll get at the recently opened WAGNER'S HOFBRAU in Coeur d'Alene. What you'll also get are large portions, lightning service, fresh food and plenty of meat: ham, turkey, pastrami, beef and sausage, mostly slow-roasted, with comfort-inducing sides involving potatoes.
Ordering cafeteria style, diners may select a sandwich ($7.50 with choice of salad) or dinner ($10 with a choice of two hot sides and salad and roll) carved and dished in front of you. Sides range from herbed veggies to mashed potatoes. Cold dishes might be traditional or three-bean salad, coleslaw, macaroni, ambrosia or fruit.
Specials include turkey leg with rice pilaf ($5), pastrami or corned beef Reuben ($8.50) and the sausage plate ($10). The latter was a steaming portion of beerwurst with my choices on the side: sauerkraut and warm potato salad (vinegar gives it zesty bite). Add stone-ground mustard and dill pickles available at the counter alongside the beverage station. Sehr gut (very good)!
My partner's at-the-finicky-eater-stage son pronounced the ham in the children's plate delicious. At $5, it includes two sides and a dinner roll.
For adults only, there is a secondary dining area decorated with faux exposed-wood beams and sporting a long wooden bar. Wines herald from California, Italy and Chile so if you're hankering for a Riesling, you're better off ordering a beer. Drafts include Blue Moon, Black Butte and Kokanee Gold, while bottles include Widmer Hefeweizen and (sigh of joy here) Spaten.
The d & eacute;cor is understated, mostly auburn and beige with the requisite hunter clock and handsome beer steins. Memorabilia from owners Bill and Roxanne Wagner's original restaurant in Fresno, California -- Old Fresno Hofbrau -- dates to the restaurant's 1930s roots. Unlike in Fresno, reports Roxanne, numerous Coeur d'Alene customers have inquired about the availability of "real" German food, e.g. schnitzel, which the Wagners are considering including someday.
Having lived in Germany with my military father, my knees go weak at the thought of crispy jagerschnitzel smothered in country gravy. Potato pancakes, spaetzle, apfelstrudel, zwiebelsuppe? More sighs of joy. One can dream.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
Wagner's Hofbrau, at 1726 Kathleen Ave., Coeur d'Alene, is open daily, 11 am-evening. Call (208) 667-6688.