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MICKDUFF'S


MickDuff's Sandpoint brewpub is rustic and comfortable, but with flecks of modernity. And a little kitsch. The floors are the original Douglas fir, buffed to a shine. There are massive old-wood pillars. But the walls are painted avocado green, with dark green trim over corrugated tin-roof wainscoting. Decoupaged onto the tabletops are hundreds of arcane beer labels: Acapulco Lime, Funky Monkey, Tube City, Robin Hood Ale. That's the real focus of the place: the beers. Try their half-dozen ales on their own, or as ingredients in their soups, sandwiches and burgers -- including the Brewers Burger, which for a few bucks extra you can get with the it-meat, Kobe beef. 312 N. First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho (208) 255-4351 (Reviewed 9/6/06, JS)








WILD SAGE


The Breaking Bread appetizer -- a large platter with a variety of house-made breads and crackers, plus toppings that include caviar with sour cream, hummus and cheeses -- sets the mood for an intimate yet sociable evening. Try the velvety-smooth handmade potato dumplings, a mild and comforting dish available as either an appetizer or an entr & eacute;e. The signature rack of lamb, architecturally presented, is a highlight: The sweet-tart red pepper glaze balances the lamb's earthiness; the accompanying savory cornbread casserole lends a crunchy and crumbly contrast. Great care goes into each presentation -- fresh herbs on each plate -- and distinct aromas come through from each dish. Eating involves all of the senses, and we were fully engaged by our experience at Wild Sage. 916 W. Second Ave., 456-7575 (Reviewed 9/21/06, AC)





CAF & Eacute; CARAMBOLA


Caf & eacute; Carambola's salads, soups, specialty sandwiches, quesadillas and wraps all have a sizzling Latin flair. Salads are made with fresh, local produce and are bursting with flavor. Soups are both comforting and adventurous. The Carambola club sandwich ($5 half; $7.50 whole) features moist chicken and veggies spiced with chipotle drizzle and pickled jalapenos. Quesadillas ($3.80-$5.50) are soft and cheesy, with a kick of salsa and additions of salad, chipotle cream and meat. Customized Carambola wraps ($7.50) give diners choices of spreads, salsas, cheese, meat and veggies. Finish it off with aguas frescas ($2) and specialty desserts. 610 W. Hubbard St. #110, Coeur d'Alene (208) 676-8784 (Reviewed 9/14/06, SH).





VIN ROUGE


You'd never guess it once was a Boston Market/Carl's Jr. on the South Hill: With its wine bar and patio, Vin Rouge has been remarkably transformed. The bruschetta and crab cakes are a bargain ($3-$4) during Social Hour, though the chicken satay's peanut sauce lacked tang. The chicken breast with creamy risotto ($14) had a luscious mushroom and marsala sauce, while the pork chop with apple-currant compote ($15) was quite juicy. The seared halibut ($19) swims in a lemon caper and white butter sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and saut & eacute;ed spinach. Dinner-hour starter prices are quite reasonable, including buttermilk-battered calamari ($7) and Manila clams ($10). Plenty of inventive desserts, too. 3029 E. 29th Ave., 535-8800 (Reviewed 8/24/06, LM)





Milford's Fish House


Historic ambience blends with very fresh fish at Milford's. Chef and owner Jerry Young imparts exciting Asian flavors to daily rotating fish dishes. Though there are plenty of seafood options for appetizers (including the pan-fried yearling oysters, $10), the chicken satay ($8) features tender meat grilled just right, accented by four Asian dipping sauces. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fillet ($22) is grilled Vietnamese-style and topped with a light lemongrass, chile and lime dressing. Alaskan halibut cheeks ($22) are prepared Asian shallow-fry-style, panko-crusted, with Asian dipping sauces that add myriad flavors to the tender fish. The prawn, chicken and mushroom fettuccine ($19) has a light, savory Alfredo sauce. Top off your meal with Milford's homemade ice cream. (Reviewed 7/27/06, SH)





La Milpa


Attentive, friendly service and good ol' Mexican comfort food are what it's all about at this family-owned, family-friendly outpost in the Valley. Bring 'em for arroz con pollo, pollo en mole, carne asada and lots of other traditional favorites. Don't forget the $2 margaritas on Mondays. 11519 E. Sprague, Spokane Valley, 921-8109 (Reviewed 7/20/06, AC)


Okan & eacute;


Experience a bit of island hospitality right here in the Inland Northwest at this chic little restaurant with modern Asian-inspired minimalist d & eacute;cor. Try the rock shrimp "smitty" ($6), a big mound of tempura-fried rock shrimp with a tangy-sweet drizzle of Okan & eacute; sauce, and the raw sushi roll, with seven slices of flavorful hamachi ($12) beautifully presented. Among entrees, the Hawaiian ($12) -- slow roasted, pulled kalua pork and bok choy, with a raw fish accompaniment -- is a star. 2910 E. 57th Ave., near Albertsons, open Mon-Thu, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm; Sun, 4-8 pm, 448-1779 (Reviewed 7/13/06, LM)





LINNIE'S THAI CUISINE


At a recent performance at the Shop, Portland singer-songwriter Krist Krueger (who plays under the name Southerly) spent much of his between-song gab time extolling the wonders of Linnie's Thai Cuisine. When someone tells you the food at a restaurant made his insides "vibrate," you gotta look into it. Housed in the former Shack on Third Avenue, the menu at Linnie's thankfully doesn't exhibit the same cultural ambivalence its d & eacute;cor does -- we were won over by the pad Thai, the (admittedly diminutive) chicken satay and the red curry with beef and basil leaves. We didn't necessarily vibrate, but we were damn satisfied. 1301 W. Third Ave., 838-0626 (Reviewed 6/29/06, JS)





TITO MACARONI'S


At Tito's, they make the whole family welcome. We loved halibut di parma -- a halibut filet wrapped in prosciutto and baked. The accompanying artichoke heart and herb risotto was rich and delicious. And the amaretto cherry creme brulee ($5) was a delight -- even though I'm normally against any additions, enhancements or even garnishes to my creme brulee. The kids liked the fact that at Tito's the tablecloths are paper and there are plenty of crayons for playing Hangman and drawing pictures of superheroes -- and the ice cream sundaes that came with their $4 meals. In the Coeur d'Alene Plaza on Sherman Avenue, (208) 66-PASTA (Reviewed 6/22/06, LM)





WILD NOODLES


Wild Noodles offers a variety of culinary traditions, fresh food and fast service that feels more like a full-service restaurant. Diners choose from Italian, Asian or American noodle favorites. The lasagna in a bowl ($7.25) is savory and comforting, with 12-hour marinara sauce and fennel Italian sausage. The Bangkok peanut noodle dish with shrimp, rice noodles, veggies and peanut sauce ($8) is clearly an item that works. A spicy garlic shrimp rice bowl ($8.50) would be a hit with more vegetables. Wild Noodles' signature orange chicken with sweet and sour sauce, Sonoran pasta with chipotle cream sauce, mac 'n' cheese with chili flakes and crouton crumbles, sticky sesame chicken with teriyaki sauce and chicken marsala all sound interesting. Wonton s'mores ($3.50) are an adventurous dessert that appeals to the kid in many of us. (Reviewed 6/15/06, SH)





Burger Heaven


The ladies behind the counter at Burger Heaven are like your favorite aunties, the ones who always know your preferred kind of cookie and who always keep the jar full just in case you stop by. I needed two hands to hold the double bacon cheeseburger ($6.75). The two standard flat burger patties had a nice charbroiled flavor; they were covered with soft melting orange American cheese and thin slices of smoky bacon. Josh's sourdough burger ($5.80) came on round sourdough bread slices, grilled to just the right crispness. His single burger was juicy and tasty, and he thought the onion rings were great. Josh also ordered a black raspberry shake ($2.65); it was fruity, sweet but not too sweet, with just a hint of tartness. Confirmation of the generous portions came when one of the aunties delivered our plates to the table. Yes, real plates. It takes something stronger than paper to carry a burger this hefty. 13735 Highway 53, Rathdrum, Idaho, open Tue-Sun, 7 am-9 pm, (208) 687-5882. (Reviewed 5/25/06, AC)





Mamma Mia's


If you're longing for home-style Italian fare and atmosphere, Mamma Mia's has it all. The comfortable dining room oozes with Italian festivity. The Amicarella family offers southern Italian cuisine featuring pasta, meats and bread made from scratch daily. Try the make-your-own pizza or calzone extravaganza with a dizzying array of sauces, meats, veggies or fruit on fresh-made, herbed dough ($5-17). Cheese ravioli with pesto sauce ($13) is the ultimate, with homemade pasta squares, flavorful cheese, earthy basil and garlic pesto sauce. The eggplant parmigiana ($12) is slightly heavy on the breading but a tasty preparation with flavorful marinara sauce. Don't be put off by the chicken cacciatori's ($14) unappealing presentation. You'll be hard pressed to find a more tender, savory poultry dish. Finish off your meal with scoops of gelato or spumoni ($3). (Reviewed 5/18/06, SH)





SCALAWAG'S


Scalawag's takes basic diner fare up a notch with creative sandwiches and salads. The paninis and wraps are especially tasty. Throw caution to the wind with the PDB (peanut butter and bacon). And be sure to try the homemade potato chips; they're thick, crispy, chewy and usually still warm. All desserts are made on the premises. 113 W. Indiana Ave., open Mon-Sat, 6 am-4 pm, Sun 10:30 am-3 pm, 327-1804. (Reviewed 5/4/06, AC)





Delaney's Musicafe


In this restored Kirtland Cutter mansion on the South Hill, you might be surprised when your waitress bursts into song, but don't be. That's all part of the charm of this old-school dining room, which blends vintage recipes with Broadway favorites. We tried the lobster thermidor ($45, includes salad or soup), which first debuted at Delmonico's in New York in 1907, and it was a succulent success. And the Chateaubriand ($70 for two) was one of the best things I've tasted in quite a while. The prices are on the steep side, but with the entertainment thrown in, this is a great place for special occasions. 820 W. Seventh Ave., 747-6235 (Reviewed 4/20/06, LM)





CHARLEY'S GRILL & amp; SPIRITS


Charley's could credit its survival of the years-long Monroe Street bridge closure to its proximity to hungry pols and lawyers at the county courthouse. But their survival might also have something to do with the ambience inside. It's ain't pretty, but it's homey enough to draw in a steady crowd of locals, who show up for the tasty appetizers like the hot wings and Puka's steak bites, and big, filling sandwiches like the Chicken Pesto. 801 N. Monroe St., open Mon-Fri 11 am-2 am, Sat 4:30 pm-2 am, 328-8911. (Reviewed 4/6/06, JPS)





PROSPECTOR'S BAR & amp; GRILL


Everything about Prospector's is big -- the bold dining room, diversified menu and large portions of American-style food. Like its older sibling on the West Plains, the Wandermere location of Prospector's features Gold Rush days d & eacute;cor. The grub is great -- whether you make a meal out of appetizers and soups or go for the gold and order large-portion entrees. Hand-tossed, brick-oven pizzas ($7-$11) have thin crusts and covered with tasty toppings. The cedar-plank salmon ($20) is tender and moist, with a nice presentation. (Reviewed 3/30/06, SH)





The Palm Court Grill


A hotel restaurant has to negotiate some difficult territory -- people with tastes ranging from nouveau cuisine to meat-and-potatoes need to be able to get a satisfying meal. As a result, the Davenport Hotel's Palm Court Grill exhibits a bit of a split personality. The entrees are on the safe side, but the mushroom strudel appetizer ($10) was something different -- and a winner. There are options for even modest budgets, making a trip to the grand old Davenport relatively affordable. 10 S. Post St., 789-6848 (Reviewed 3/16/06, LM)





TOP OF INDIA


Some so-called ethnic restaurants go to great lengths to transport you back to the mother country; Top of India never lets you forget that you're lunching in the Valley. But that's not the point here. Because unlike those flashy Indian restaurants that are all sitar and no saag, Top of India trades d & eacute;cor for flavor and bloated prices for delicious economy. The lunch buffet -- 20 different items, all you can eat -- costs only seven bucks. We destroyed several plates piled high with naan, fried potatoes, various succulent curries and flaky somosas with a nice, cold mint sauce. 11114 E. Sprague Ave., 927-0500 (Reviewed 2/16/06, JPS)

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