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SYRINGA


It's not your typical Japanese restaurant. With its bistro-like interior, pristine presentation and European-flavored menu offerings, Syringa Japanese Caf & eacute; and Sushi Bar could easily be at home in a bigger city. Surprise: they're in mid-town Coeur d'Alene on 4th Street. More surprises like eggplant ravioli and beef tenderloin with Dungeness crab alongside delicacies like the Chilean sea bass and spiced duck. Traditional Japanese fare includes sukiyaki, udon noodles, tempura, etc. Combined, Syringa might even convert those with the misimpression that Japanese food is just raw fish. Speaking of fish, it's off-the-dock fresh and full of flavor. If it's sampling you want, try the abundant small plate menu or something from the sushi bar: simple tuna rolls, the fiery dragon roll, the unusual Northwest roll -- saut & eacute;ed wild mushrooms with tempura-fried green beans and smoked salmon -- or even custom orders. A wine, beer, sake and specialty cocktail selection complements chef Viljo Basso's inventive menu, which is extremely reasonably priced. Reservations recommended as this neighborhood eatery has developed an ever-widening circle of devotees. 1401 N. 4th St., Couer d'Alene, (208) 664-2718 (CS)





HAY J'S


Lunch at this a sleekly modern yet comfortable space features a strong selection of sandwiches, wraps, burgers and salads plus a variety of favorite dinner entrees. Dinner ramps up to black-napkin elegance and the menu shifts toward entr & eacute;es and small plates. The Ladieu salad showcases pecans, grapes, red onions and feta cheese on a generous plate of baby greens, in a lightly sweet huckleberry vinaigrette dressing. The black bean and chicken soup of the day was a highlight, served with warm crusty asiago sourdough bread. My parmesan-crusted halibut -- a healthy cut of mild fish in a thin coating of crumbs and cheese that added crunch without overwhelming the subtle flavor of the fish -- came with a delicately roasted medley of summer squashes, a delightful treat and a feast for the senses. Our server was attentive without hovering. 21706 E. Mission Ave., Liberty Lake, Wash., 926-2310 (AC)





STEELHEAD BAR & amp; GRILLE


It's one of the oldest buildings in downtown Spokane, the old Coeur d'Alene Hotel, and the interior design takes full advantage: exposed brick, a huge crumpled metal sculpture, and a wrought iron spiral staircase and catwalk that hark back to the saloons of the Old West. We began with the smoked steelhead ($8) with green onions, cream cheese and crostini -- great presentation. The chopped salad ($8) -- salami, chicken, tomatoes and baby mozzarella tossed in a creamy vinaigrette with Romaine -- was delicious but filling, and the three halibut tacos ($9) were mild, satisfying and refreshingly light. The thick-cut pub steak ($13) was grilled and topped with blue cheese butter, and served with saut & eacute;ed crisp and colorful veggies and a big mound of irresistible shoestring fries. Desserts are from Bittersweet Bakery. 218 N. Howard St., 747-1303 (LM)





LINNIE'S THAI CUISINE


At a performance at the Shop, Portland singer-songwriter Krist Krueger 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 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 (JS)

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