DINING Urbane Plates & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & elcome to your new favorite local eatery in downtown Coeur d'Alene.
You expect LE PIASTRE to be good, knowing wunderkind Adam Hegsted is at the helm. Then you check out the menu (from $3-$8 per plate), where sharing is encouraged. Crispy potato cakes with Idaho trout lox, scrambled egg and whipped sour cream for breakfast. A pan-fried crab sandwich with sweet 'n' sour slaw and ginger tartar for lunch. The hearty Chianti-braised beef with Guinness pot pie and a savory salad of endive, candied pecans, apple and creamy cheddar. Late night, it's a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate of yummy cheeses, fig jam and toasted nuts or perhaps chocolate cake with mint cream.
You may never cook again.
With abundant advance buzz, Le Piastre is developing devotees in this cozy former Caf & eacute; Doma location where the interior looks much the same as before, but the menu is a whole new world. Le Piastre -- Italian for "plates" -- taps the trends toward small plates, eating local and organics. It's a casual atmosphere, with a small-but-focused menu that changes with the season and emphasizes eclectic flavor pairings. Thus you end up with pork confit and sweet potato spaetzle or a salad with grilled raisin-apple-walnut bread and bleu cheese.
To me, Le Piastre feels like Seattle or even New York. It's a renovated older building urbanized with large, black-trim windows and black ceiling, mod-yet-soothing aqua-green walls, mostly two-top tables aligned to encourage conversation with your neighbor. It doesn't feel trendy (wait staff isn't dressed all in black!), yet it's upscale -- our dinner was about $30 with four excellent little meals.
As of press time, they're awaiting final approval on a beer and wine license. (There's no corkage fee for now, but you may want to call ahead for an update on adult beverage availability.) Outdoor summer dining is slated (pending city approval), which will provide much-needed space for the growing list of fans.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
Le Piastre, 501 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene, is open Tue-Sun 8 am-10:30 pm. Visit www.lepiastre.net or call (208) 665-0585.
CASUAL Not-so-tiny Bubbles
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & oad construction is great for clearing up the potholes and ruts of our city streets, but it's tough on neighborhood businesses whose access is blocked. Still, two businesses in the Ash Street Plaza are worth seeking out amid the dust and dirt and heavy equipment at Spokane's corner of Ash and Northwest Boulevard -- just wind your way through the back roads to get there.
At VINA Asian restaurant, you'll find tasty Chinese and Vietnamese specialties along with a diverse clientele. Seated in the dining room for a late weekday lunch, I heard conversations buzzing in Spanish and Vietnamese; the three young Asian men at the next table spoke fluent English, but they switched back to their native tongue when the topic took a particularly juicy turn.
Most of the menu features standard Chinese-restaurant dishes, with inexpensive lunch combos and overflowing platters that run less than $10. The tofu with mixed vegetables ($8.50) is a colorful dish, with bright stir-fried carrots, broccoli, pea pods, celery and onions amid chunks of deep-fried tofu, all in a flavorful sauce that's light in both color and seasoning.
The back page highlights a variety of Vietnamese noodle soups including the traditional pho. A small bowl ($6.25), accompanied by bean sprouts and fresh basil leaves, more than filled me, while the large bowl ($7.25) holds enough for a small family. Vietnamese coffee ($2.50), an intense and sweet treat, is also available.
Next door is BUBBLE GARDEN, a small caf & eacute; serving a selection of loose teas by the pot along with the namesake bubble -- or "boba" -- tea. This blended treat ($3.65-$4) that originated in Taiwan is hard to describe to the uninitiated: It's similar to a brightly colored smoothie, but with small tapioca-like balls nestled at the bottom. Fruit flavors like banana or mango are popular, as is the purple taro, although personally I'm fond of the matcha green tea, with its less sweet and slightly earthy flavor.
Still, the texture is the thing here. The tapioca balls -- "black pearls" in the lingo -- are made of cassava, nearly marble-sized and sort of starchy and gelatinous. (I mean that in a good way -- think something like soft gummy bears, if you can imagine.) The first time one of these slides up the extra-wide straw and pops into your mouth, it's vaguely disturbing. But I was won over by the taste and the coolness and the contrasting textures. This is not your average frozen treat. And it's a lot of fun.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
Vina Asian Restaurant, 2303 N. Ash St., is open Sun-Thu 10 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat 10 am-10 pm. Call 328-2197.
Bubble Garden, 2303 N. Ash St., is open Sun-Fri 10 am-9 pm, Sat 10 am-10 pm. Call 328-2669.