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Mmmm... Max 

by Lauren McAllister & r & After seeing people enjoying themselves "to the Max" on those TV ads, I made a mental note to check out this ambitious establishment in the new city of Spokane Valley. When one thinks of fine dining, up until now at least, Spokane Valley doesn't immediately spring to mind as a hotbed of innovative cuisine. And restaurants in hotels located next to freeway off-ramps are far from where my own biased notions suggest good restaurants can be found. But with ample space and miles between other fine dining establishments, why not add a whiz-bang chef and aspire to greatness?


That's what has happened at Max at Mirabeau, located in the Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center just off I-90 at Sullivan Road. The restaurant is decked out in medley of styles -- a dash of art deco, a little '60s retro, all with a Northwest flair. There are cool blown-glass pendant lamps over chic wooden tables and chairs, swinging curtains around the lounge area, and mod upholstered booths around the dining room's circumference.


But let's get right to the menu, because there are more than 100 items included on this monster. That's no accident, according to Lee Cameron, managing partner for the restaurant. Max was in the planning stages for months, says Cameron:" "We decided that in order to meet the multitude of demand, we needed to have a menu that would really reach out to the majority of our markets -- everything from bar-type items, to nachos, burgers, to tournedos of filet mignon."


Cameron adds that Chef Phil Levine and his staff are committed to making virtually everything on the menu from scratch. They have partnered with Green Bluff farmers to acquire locally grown ingredients. But Cameron emphasizes that attention to quality shouldn't intimidate diners from checking out the restaurant. There's no dress code, and the menu contains something for nearly every budget -- sandwiches feature in-house roasted meats and artisan breads and start at $9, while homemade soups check in at $4 to $5.


On the weekday evening we visited, the restaurant was fairly quiet, and my companion and I settled into a comfy booth with a view of the courtyard. We decided to start off with the basil crab cakes ($12). Two plump cakes encrusted with sesame seeds were accompanied by a sweet chili mayonnaise, which was swirled around the plate. The sesame seeds added a unique crunch and flavor to the sweet, succulent crabmeat. This was a satisfying way to start a meal. Our server also had praise for the beef teriyaki satay ($11) and the kalamata olive poppadillos ($6). I was intrigued by the smoked salmon and crostini with lemon cream ($9). Next time.


On to the salads. My fellow diner was captivated by the hot spinach salad ($6) with frizzled onions, candied pecans, hardboiled egg and shitake mushrooms in a balsamic vinaigrette. This salad is hearty enough to be a main dish -- and quite a bargain, with lots of the well-chosen ingredients to savor in each bite.


I opted for Max's caprese ($7), the classic combo of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato. Here, big juicy slabs of slightly salty tomato were stacked in a tower with a lovely, fine textured fresh mozzarella. Basil and balsamic vinegar were the perfect accompaniment in this irresistibly wonderful salad.


The menu also features entr & eacute;e salads, including traditional Caesar with chicken, prawns or smoked salmon ($12-$14), as well as some unique options like the ginger duck on Napa cabbage ($14).


Entr & eacute;e options are From the Land, From the Sea or Noodles and Pasta. Our server gave high marks to the New Zealand rack of lamb ($28) with panko peanut crust and passion fruit demiglace. But for a fine summer evening, he recommended the lighter, corn meal dusted diver sea scallops ($23) with a lemony cream sauce. The scallops were served with a scoop of jasmine rice and cubed saut & eacute;ed root vegetables. The potatoes and carrots seemed to compete with the scoop of fragrant jasmine rice and didn't add color or texture to the plate. Although the rice was a bit too salty and the delicate sauce risked being overwhelmed by the addition of heady fresh rosemary, the scallops were a treat -- tender and sweet with the cornmeal offering a nice contrasting texture.


My companion chose the seared sesame-crusted ahi tuna with yakisoba noodles ($24). The tuna was cooked just as ordered and served atop a bed of wiggly noodles tender noodles. Sunomono cucumbers sounded more exotic than they tasted, but all in all this was a tasty dish, accented by a sweet teriyaki sauce.


In keeping with the expansive nature of the menu, there are eight housemade desserts, and an assortment of Tillamook, Breyer's and Haagen Dazs frozen treats to pick from. Though our server was passionate about the cinnamon fried banana sundae ($7), instead we chose the Callebaut chocolate raspberry torte ($7). A dense, flourless chocolate cake was topped with a tall layer of raspberry-infused whipped cream and six perfect fresh raspberries. This was a delightful combination of flavors, with just the right portions of total decadence, light sweetness and summer perfection.


Service throughout the evening was exemplary -- casual but knowledgeable and attentive. There is live music on Fridays and Saturdays, and patio dining in the hotel courtyard for warm days and evenings. And Max is one place where they take the idea of late-night dining seriously: The entire menu is available until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays, till midnight on Sundays and until 1 am the rest of the week.

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