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by Inlander Staff


Downriver Grill -- The Downriver Grill (a locally-owned neighborhood spot on the North Side) occupies a former florist's shop just a little past Audubon Park on Northwest Boulevard. The interior is sleek and modern but warm and inviting. The Tuscan pasta salad, with penne pasta, feta, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives ($6 half, $8 whole) was a meal in itself. The yellowfin tuna entree ($14) was served with avocado and mango salsa, couscous and saut & eacute;ed vegetables. Cooked as ordered, it was quite tasty, and the mango salsa had just the right blend of sweet and tart. Service was unfailingly attentive, courteous and lighthearted. This place was packed on a Sunday night, so plan ahead. 3315 W. Northwest Blvd. Call: 323-1600. (LM)





Herbal Essence -- The restaurant's interior walls are a deep cabernet and are highlighted by colorful artwork. Sparkly candles add romance. The clever, surprising menu here mixes and matches a variety of ingredients and flavors. The seafood-stuffed 12-oz. ribeye ($24) was enormous and beautifully presented, with mashed potatoes forming a peak and a sprig of fresh rosemary on top. Sauteed squash added color and crunch, and the stuffing was deliciously rich in crab, shrimp and cheese. The coconut-crusted gulf prawns ($17.35) in a Key West sweet-and-sour sauce consisted of six jumbo prawns coated in coconut batter and pan-fried to a golden brown. The sauce was more sweet than sour and went well with the prawns. Our server was knowledgeable and very attentive. 115 N. Washington. Call: 838-4600. (LM)





Mootsy's North 9 -- The interior of Mootsy's North 9 is clean and offbeat with plenty of space to park it and original paintings and framed rock posters embellishing the richly colored walls. The menu features an interesting and tempting assortment of pizzas, sandwiches, and "extras." The sauces are handmade; pizza dough is hand-tossed. The toppings range from standard to gourmet. The North 9 ($8.25 / $18.95) is a spicy olive oil-based pie (no red sauce) topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts and fresh basil. There's the Santa Fe ($6.75 / $17.95) with mozzarella and cheddar, lime-marinated chicken, black olive and red onion, and topped with fresh tomato and fresh cilantro. Take your pick from a total of 11. You really can't go wrong. The slice-and-salad combo ($4.95) is a steal. 9 N. Washington St. Call: 838-0260 (MC)





Cheddar Chad's Hot Dog Cart -- Eating on the cheap. Yep, we're all for it. Chad Rattray is the smiling face behind the hot dog cart on the northeast corner of Howard and Riverside (in front of the Bank of America). Every day from 11 am-3 pm he's serving up sausages in buns. It's as simple as that. There's the popular Dollar Dog, The Jumbo and the Polish sausage ($2 each), the German ($2.50) and the smoked sausage ($3). Add a bag of chips and a can of soda to any dog for a buck more. The German sausage with sauerkraut, onions and self-applied sweet hot mustard had a satisfying bite. The Dollar Dog loaded with onions, relish and yellow mustard was pretty much what you'd expect: a standard white bread bun and a standard steamed wiener. Still, with chips and soda, it made for a tasty and incredibly inexpensive lunch. At the corner of Riverside and Howard. (MC)





Huckleberry's Bistro -- All of the menu items here are created with natural and organic ingredients whenever possible, and the variety of foods prepared fresh daily is staggering. They do breakfast, lunch and dinner. Soups are $2 a cup, hot sandwiches and entrees are $6 or less. Cold salads range from $6 to $9 a pound. The hot lemon chicken sandwich ($6 with salad) was generous, with saut & eacute;ed chicken breast topped with tomato and covered with creamy lemon-garlic pan sauce on a thick slab of asagio ciabatta bread. It was substantial, peerless in ingredient quality, delicious and messy. The curried red lentil salad has a smooth texture and a very subtle curry flavor, with sweet currants and vinaigrette for balance. 926 S. Monroe Call: 624-1349. (MC)





UpStage Supper Club -- You don't need to sign up for theater to sample the quisine of Chef Kile Tansy (formerly of Quinn's) as the third floor of the old Odd Fellows Hall on West First is now open for dinner. The Scallops Mornay appetizer ($10) was generous, with meaty scallops in a delicious sauce under a blanket of melted cheese, served with thin French bread toasts. The Spice Island Tuna ($17) was a monumental portion of two yellow fin tuna steaks, with a thick rub of a pungent spice mixture served over a delectable, creamy coconut-almond rice. On top of the whole thing was a generous amount of a colorful fresh mango salsa. Some lightly steamed spinach grounded this beautiful and very tasty plate. Look for the menu items to change about every three months. 1017 W. First. Call: 747-8243. (LM)





Benjamin's Cafe -- Located in the middle of downtown, with its dining area looking out onto the Parkade Plaza, Benjamin's can seem like a welcome surprise even when you're just looking for some fries. The menu is restricted to breakfast and lunch options and prides itself on fidelity to the classics. The Chili Burger arrived lost under a mountain of rich, vegetable- and bean-filled chili and topped with a generous sprinkling of minced red onion which lent a satisfying sweet crunch to each bite. The fish and chips contained strips of cod breaded in buttery batter and a heap of fries (hand-cut from fresh potatoes). The fish was good, and the fries -- each one a perfectly squared stick as thick as a finger -- were astounding. So was Benjamin's homemade tartar sauce. Parkade Plaza. Call: 455-6771. (MD)





Aki's Grill and Sushi Express -- Aki's is tidy, friendly and intimate in a way that encourages conversation. In addition to sushi, the menu features grilled chicken, steak and salmon with teriyaki sauce, tempura shrimp and veggies, chicken yakisoba noodles, chicken fried rice and miso soup. Reasonable prices encourage experimentation. The rolled sushi platters contain six to eight pieces and come with the chef's choice of three hand-formed pieces, wasabi and pickled ginger. The crunchy roll ($6.50) with a filling of tempura shrimp, cream cheese and avocado and the spicy tuna roll ($5.50) with a filling of spicy scallions and tuna were both delicious. The hand-formed nigiri of raw salmon, raw tuna and lightly seared albacore was fresh tasting and, quite simply, spectacular. 5 N. Stevens St. Call: 747-4266. (MC)





Spencer's -- Spencer's has the easygoing but elegant ambience of a private club with deep, comfortable booths lining the walls and soft light emanating from low-hung fixtures over the tables. The entree menu features top-quality, straight-ahead food in no-nonsense preparations that rely on USDA prime beef direct from the Chicago stockyards (though beef is not the only option). The salty prime rib (11-ounce, $21; 18-ounce, $27) was as tender as butter, while the Spencer's steak (a 14-ounce ribeye for $27) showed off the intense flavor made possible by searing in the restaurant's 1,600-degree infrared broiler. Side dishes are tasty though a la carte, which can really elevate the total cost of the meal. The strawberry shortcake ($6.25) has to be one of the best dessert values in town. Service was pleasant, well-informed, and generally efficient. 322 N. Spokane Falls Ct. Call: 744-2372. (LM)





Coffee House -- Coffee House (across the street from the Rock Pointe office complex) has an informal-but-inviting groove: not too cozy or too edgy, but somewhere in between. There are about a dozen tables, plus overstuffed chairs and plenty of windows for traffic- and people-watching. The coffee was excellent. They don't bake their own goods, but instead offer a selection from a handful of local bakeries. Ready-made sandwiches are available courtesy of the Viking. Soups have just been introduced. The scones ($1.70) are enormous and fresh with a homemade taste. The banana bread ($1.60) delivered a strong banana presence. The bacon and cheddar quiche ($2.95) was just okay. 1231 N. Washington. Call: 326-4005 (Sheri Boggs)





Arny's -- Arny's serves up classic diner chow along with conversation and a big helping of attitude. Grab a counter-side stool and get busy. It's breakfasts and lunches only, and all your faves are here. The Double Whammy is $6.19. The Stromboli with ham, provolone and homemade meat sauce on a French roll is $4.29. The colossal Bomber Omelet with six eggs, onions, green peppers, ham, stromboli sauce and cheese with 'browns and toast is $8.19. The Philly Steak sandwich ($6.49) with fries comes on a French roll and is bursting with more tender, savory beef strips, diced green pepper and onion than it can possibly contain. It's one helluva tasty sandwich. Be sure to try one of Arny's real ice cream shakes or malts. 1229 N. Hamilton. Call: 487-9588. (MC)





The Park Inn Park Plaza -- Nothing ever changes at the P.I. And that's the way we like it. It's old skool pub grub all the way in a super-casual atmosphere: burgers, deli sandwiches, pizza, soups, salads, some dinner entrees and "others," such as the delectably dangerous-sounding chili dog ($5.75). For pizza, try the 12-inch ML Special ($13.75), with sausage, beef, mushroom, olive, onion and fresh tomato. It's generous with a thin crust, a hint of sauce and a mountain of toppings. The grilled cheese sandwich ($4.75) was delicious and gooey with cheddar and provolone melted between two buttery, toasted slices of rye bread. The side of homemade chili (ordinary but perfectly mouth-watering, with a mound of cheese and onions on top) was a little bowl of satisfaction. The service was friendly, efficient and frequently hilarious. Smoking at the P.I. is most definitely allowed. 107 W. 9th Ave. Call: 624-8111. (MC)





Paprika -- Paprika is home to some of the most inventive dishes in the Inland Northwest. Even the appetizer list harbors intrigue. Included are fresh-roasted local porcini mushrooms with gremolata served over grilled toast ($8) and roasted artichoke stuffed with saffron-potato puree and topped with toasted bread crumbs ($7). Entrees are just as creative. The seared pepper-crusted ahi tuna ($22) was teamed up with horseradish mashed potatoes, grilled onions and a fresh tomato vinaigrette. The roasted spring chicken with morel mushrooms ($19) was moist and flavorful. 1228 S. Grand Blvd. Call: 455-7545 (LM)





Capsule reviews are written by Lauren McAllister (LM), Mike Corrigan (MC) or Marty Demarest (MD), unless otherwise noted.





Publication date: 11/13/03

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