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Moving On Up The River 

by Lauren Mcallister

After many successful years on the banks of the Spokane River at the Flour Mill, Riverview Thai has now moved up the river to Riverwalk, the site of the now-defunct Bayou Brewery. Now owner Carl Wilson says every table has a view of the river, as opposed to the mere four tables with river views at the old location.

The new space retains the ambience of old New Orleans that was carefully created for the Bayou, which housed a restaurant and microbrewery. Now Riverview Thai occupies the restaurant portion while the Northern Lights Brewery is in the bar space. Aside from the addition of some Thai accent pieces, little in the d & eacute;cor has changed. On the night we visited, most diners were opting to sit outside, a stone's throw from the river, which flowed lazily past, with a gentle breeze rustling the trees along the banks. The outdoor dining space is furnished with plastic tables with vinyl zip-on tablecloths and chairs poked into a lush lawn. There is no station for the serving staff outdoors, so they got a good workout as they half-jogged in and out of the restaurant. Fortunately, carafes of iced water with a slice of lemon at least reduce the number of water refills.

It has been a few years since we visited Riverview Thai at its old location, a dinner we recall fondly. Since then, both the ownership and the chef have changed. Carl and his wife On Wilson are the owners, and On is in charge of the kitchen. He says she revamped some items on the menu and added some specialties of her own as well.

We decided to start with the spring rolls ($7.25). Granted, these are hardly unusual, with nearly every fusion restaurant around doing a creative variation on this Thai favorite. And that may be the problem, because these six tiny, very straightforward rolls were filled with a rather plain mixture of vegetables and fried to a deep crisp. With all the palate-tingling versions of spring rolls around, these rolls were tasty in their own way, but mundane in contrast to many other versions I have had. On our previous visit, the Crab Rangoon appetizer was delicious, so perhaps that's a better bet.

Things improved with our soup, the Khao Tom ($9.45). Carl Wilson says this soup was added to the menu by his wife and "is my standby. If you don't know what to eat, have Khao Tom." And it is easy to see why. This was a lovely Thai version of chicken and rice soup, with fragrant jasmine rice and ground chicken in a rich chicken broth, flavored with green onion, celery, garlic and cilantro. We chose the one star on the heat category, described as "mild with a bite" on the zero ("mild") to five star ("extremely hot!!!") categories. The soup was mild with a bite, as promised. The still-crisp celery was a nice contrast to the soft rice, and the cilantro added its fresh astringency to create a delightful experience.

There are a huge number of entrees available, arranged in categories of poultry, vegetables, curries, beef pork, seafood, noodles and rice. We opted for the Gai phad khing ($11.25), intrigued by the "shredded ginger and garden fresh vegetables" described on the menu. Unfortunately, this dish arrived loaded with green peppers, to which my companion has an allergy. We had noticed peppers in the description of the other items we ordered and asked that they be left out. Our server quickly returned the dish to the kitchen and had a new dish prepared. This version lacked the peppers, but also lacked any other vegetables, aside from canned mushrooms and onions. The abundant flavor of the fresh ginger was very pleasant, however, and the chicken was moist and tender.

Our server explained the three types of curries on the menu. Red curry is the spiciest, while yellow curry is more mellow. The green curry sauce is made with spinach and Thai basil, which has a more floral quality than the more familiar Italian basil. We tried the Gaeng keow wahn ($11) with chicken. This dish combined the green curry sauce with green peas, bamboo shoots, bell pepper and fresh basil. Even without the green pepper, this dish was successful, with the fragrant taste of the Thai basil the predominant flavor.

It was hard to refrain from ordering pahd Thai ($10.45), those yummy noodles with peanut sauce, but we decided to try the pahd si-ew ($10.45), which is described on the menu as "popular among locals in Thailand." These wide rice noodles are pan-fried with chicken, broccoli and eggs. The sauce for this dish was quite sweet, again lacking any hint of heat, but the chicken and broccoli were nicely cooked. A pleasant, but not outstanding, dish.

Dinner on the lawn was lovely, but the awkward arrangement for the wait staff meant that our appetizer arrived before we had silverware or napkins, and none were forthcoming until that plate was cleared. Placemats at least would add a nice touch and make the outdoor dining seem less like a picnic in someone's backyard. And of course salt and pepper and other condiments should be available on each table. As for the food, in venturing away from our tried-and-true selections, we missed the luscious complexities that I've experienced in the past at Riverview Thai. Maybe on our next visit, we'll stick to the staples. Even with a few problems, our dinner was quite pleasant, especially with the beautiful scenery at the new location and, as at the old location, the friendly service.

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