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Moxie Moves In 

by Lauren McAllister

Moxie had its first home in a humble strip mall at Liberty Lake. The tiny restaurant closed (the space is now home to Solstice) when Chef Ian Wingate was hired to take over the brand-new Palm Court at the Davenport Hotel. Wingate left the Davenport a few months back, and now he's getting back to his roots, in a cozy little restaurant with a relatively small dining room. But he didn't travel far this time; he hung out his shingle right across the street from the Davenport in the old Great Harvest location.

The space is hardly recognizable. The west wall features a giant reproduction of a Japanese woodblock print of a wave crashing, a tiny Mount Fuji visible in the background, framed under the crest of the wave. (If it looks familiar, it's because a similar mural once graced a wall downtown where the River Park Square atrium now sits.) A mesmerizing aqua blue soothes the back wall of the restaurant, while the kitchen is separated from the dining room by a gracefully curved counter, where diners can sit. Tables are nicely appointed in starched white linens, with candles adding an intimate touch.

The menu features Wingate's signature fusion creations. A Mediterranean-inspired, prosciutto-wrapped fresh mozzarella on tomato carpaccio ($9) sounded tempting. Also intriguing was the Hawaiian-style ahi poke ($9), with the raw tuna accompanied by a sweet-chili sauce and macadamia nuts. We decided to try a little East meets West, or Northwest in this case, and opted for the Pacific Northwest clams ($10). The plump clams were served in the shell, and along with one walnut-sized rock, were bathed in a luscious lemongrass-red curry-coconut broth with ample fresh basil. This was truly a wonderful preparation, with the salty smokiness of the clams mellowed by the mild curry and rich coconut. Fresh basil added a touch of brightness. In our swoon over the flavors, we completely forgot to mention the rock to our server. No harm done -- it kind of looked like an unopened clam and there was no chance we'd bite into it.

We also sampled a more Mediterranean offering -- the roasted feta cheese ($7) with kalamata olives and grilled herb foccacia. Also served with basil, this little platter provided a completely different take on this versatile herb. The feta had a pleasantly coarse texture, with the roasting process helping to concentrate its flavor.

Wingate's Caesar salad ($4 for half) is one of his standards, and his dressing, with lots (and I mean lots) of garlic and a dash of lemon, was in top form on crisp whole Romaine leaves. The parmesan cracker on top is a funky substitute for croutons. Another signature salad, the pear and blue cheese ($4 for half), was similarly tasty, with the mildly sweet vinaigrette offering a nice counterpoint to the spicy caramelized walnuts.

The star of this course, however, was the sherry mushroom soup ($4). It provoked gasps of pleasure from one of my dining companions. And, indeed, it was incredible, with lots of finely chopped mushrooms filling the sherry-infused creamy soup.

Entrees lean toward the Asian, with wok-seared spiced orange stir-fry and coconut jasmine rice available with steak ($12), ahi tuna ($12) chicken ($10) duck ($12) tofu and eggplant ($10) and prawns ($14). There's grilled miso chicken yaki ($12) with a cucumber relish. Sweet ginger-glazed Rogue River salmon ($18) and sesame seed seared yellow fin tuna ($18) are also on the menu. But fear not, if patriotism strikes and you're in the mood for some good ol' American cuisine amid all this fusion cookery, dammit, you'll find Wingate's signature charbroiled chipotle-glazed meatloaf ($14) with mashed potatoes.

I remembered the pepper-seared breast of duck ($18) from a long-ago visit to the old Moxie and recommended it to one of my companions. Then, the crisp skin was thick with pepper and the tender poultry was moist and rich. Now, the presentation was similarly attractive, with the duck breast sliced and fanned over a bed of chili-glazed vegetables.

There's a lot of debate, of course, over what constitutes proper doneness for meats, fish and poultry. Chefs argue that overcooking destroys delicate flavors while creating a dried-out, flavorless hunk of flesh that has to be sawed into bite-size pieces to be eaten. Nonetheless, it is still the diner's prerogative to determine how done to request his or her food. In this case, the duck, ordered medium, was just plain undercooked -- actually just warm and still shiny and translucent through most of the breast.

The yellow fin tuna ($18), ordered medium rare, and it came that way. It was certainly tasty in a red curry coconut sauce. Tempura asparagus added some creative crunch.

My sweet ginger-glazed salmon, ordered medium, was moist and tasty on the inside, but the flavors of the glaze were somewhat obscured by charring on the grill. Still this was a very pleasant entr & eacute;e.

The flat iron steak ($16) was a succulent success, cooked as ordered, with a delicate miso teriyaki glaze and sweet chili-glazed vegetables.

For dessert, we especially enjoyed the rich and creamy espresso cheesecake ($6).

Service slumped a little, especially toward the end of our meal. Dessert took a long time to arrive, and one of our desserts -- packed to go for the babysitter -- ended up not being what we'd ordered. The restaurant is only in its third month, so those kinds of issues can be cleared up with a little more attention.

But you've got to stop and marvel at what's happening in downtown Spokane. Moxie adds yet another great choice to a growing list of very good, higher-end restaurants. Since we started reviewing restaurants back in 1993, there have never been this many great places to eat. Diners, one hopes, will show their appreciation by trying them all.

It takes guts to open a restaurant, but maybe with the growing concentration in downtown, it's proof that locals are supporting places that have something new and yummy to offer. And in those departments, Moxie delivers the goods.

Publication date: 08/19/04

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