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Playing It Safe 

byLauren McAllister & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & hotel restaurant has to negotiate some difficult territory -- people with tastes ranging from nouveau cuisine to meat-and-potatoes will need to be able to get a satisfying meal. Maybe this is why so many big hotels -- including the downtown DoubleTree and the Coeur d'Alene Resort -- offer an upscale dining room and a separate, more modest restaurant. At Spokane's grand old Davenport Hotel, there's just one, making it hard not to exhibit a bit of a split personality.


Last August, to counter the notion that dining at the Davenport was strictly for special occasions, the Palm Court became the Palm Court Grill. The menu was lightened up to include some smaller portions and, in turn, smaller prices. It also features a more conservative menu, dominated by standbys such as scampi ($24), oven-roasted chicken breast ($18) and fettuccini alfredo ($12), with few choices for the more modern, adventurous diner.


While we're on the subject, let's take a closer look at the menu. Even if there's a need to play it safe on a hotel menu, I would submit that showcasing the region's food is essential to appealing to the world-class travelers bunking at the Davenport. I was astonished to find no mention of where any of these ingredients came from. There's scarcely a restaurant around anymore that doesn't tout local ingredients and highlight local producers.


And if ever there was a restaurant menu ripe for weaving in historical tidbits, Palm Court Grill would be it. The menu proudly features the Crab Louis salad ($18), which they claim was invented by old Louis Davenport himself. If true (others credit chefs in San Francisco and Seattle for creating the salad), that's a story that should be told in more than a single line. And perhaps they could bring back some of the recipes from the 30-year tenure of Davenport master French chef Edward Mathieu.


The Davenport is Spokane's only Four Diamond hotel, according to AAA, and it was recently named among the 10 best in America by Expedia.com. Such a dynamic destination deserves a more daring menu.


But back to our visit: We decided to start out with the mushroom strudel ($10). Here a portobello mushroom medley was rolled in puff pastry, cinnamon roll-style. It was accompanied by a fresh basil leaves, chopped tomatoes and a mushroom-sherry sauce, with bit of white truffle oil. The rich puff pastry was a good match for the heady mushroom mix, and the tomatoes provided a fresh, light counterpoint. This is one appetizer that you'll remember, and it won't fill you up so much that you'll be stuffed by the time the entr & eacute;e arrives.


Next came salads. I opted for the $5 Palm Court House salad. This was a real gem, a great value and a very hearty portion. Crisp, cold romaine was accompanied by hard-boiled eggs, bacon, julienne pickled beets, chopped tomatoes and shredded Parmesan. It was all enveloped in a creamy dressing. Perhaps more dressing than I would have liked, but still quite good. My partner's Caprese salad ($5) was also a winner, with lots of meaty mozzarella and fresh basil. The tomatoes were touted as fresh vine-ripened, and while good, they were not quite height-of-summer good.


On the advice of our server, I opted for the grilled salmon from the fresh sheet ($24). This was a tasty preparation, with a clever strawberry-pepper cream sauce and mashed potatoes. The fresh asparagus was not quite cooked, and the potatoes weren't quite hot, but the fish was moist and savory.


My companion ordered the salt-crusted prime rib, medium ($32, full cut; $26, petite cut). It arrived well-done and not particularly warm, accompanied by a small mound of tepid mashed potatoes and some steamed broccolini.


The Palm Court Grill employs a pastry chef, but the dessert choices don't seem to require an abundance of skill -- a warm apple crisp ($7), a chocolate sundae ($7), sorbet ($5). There is also a chocolate lava cake ($7). We decided to split the creme brulee ($7). This was a genuinely delightful version of my favorite dessert, perhaps giving Clinkerdagger's a run for its money. Flecks of vanilla in the custard and a thick crunchy sugar topping were enhanced by a scoop of berry compote that accompanied the dessert. Delicious.


Throughout our evening, service seemed off balance. We waited quite some time to order, and after we did it was a long time before any food showed up. At one point, our server got our hopes up by bringing two more tiny plates to add to the two empty plates currently residing on our table. Bread and our appetizer finally arrived together more than 30 minutes after our reservation time. Even starving as we were, the bread was a disappointment -- people have come to expect artisan loaves. Less than five minutes later, our salads arrived, accompanied by another plate of the appetizer we had just eaten.


With its sterling national and regional reputation, the Davenport is playing in the big leagues, and the Palm Court Grill is poised to be truly exceptional with its unparalleled location and grandiose decor. You can have a nice dining experience at the Palm Court Grill, and there were some things they did very well, but the restaurant fails to dazzle. Expert service and a menu that befits the belle of the Inland Northwest are still waiting to debut.





The Palm Court Grill & r & at the Davenport Hotel10 S. Post St. & r & 789-6848 & r & Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

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