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The minimalist vibe at Twigs is soothing, earthy and pleasingly inviting. The New Orleans shrimp appetizer ($11) had enough heat to make a statement without burning, but it was a little too oily; the Moroccan beef ($13), little chunks of beef nicely seasoned with a hint of cinnamon among other spices, served with a Gorgonzola fondue, was more successful. Pesto-crusted chicken ($17) was a pretty platter indeed, with a bright, fresh taste, and the Under the Sun pizza ($13) contained nearly every meat under the sun: Italian sausage, smoked bacon, roasted chicken, prosciutto and pepperoni. Steak penne ($16) -- a m & eacute;lange of beef tenderloin morsels with crisp broccolini, garlic, shallots and bacon in a "white truffle scented parmesan cream" -- was a rich dish; I couldn't discern truffle in the thick sauce, but the contrasting textures and savory beef helped make it successful. The sticky cookie ($6) -- a hot chocolate chip cookie with three scoops of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream -- is a simple dessert that makes you happy. Like a wild tree, some menu items at Twigs may need pruning, but their unexpected taste combinations are often quite successful -- and lots of fun. 4320 S. Regal St., 443-8000; River Park Square, 232-3376; 9820 N. Nevada St., 465-8794 (LM)


An inviting atmosphere, good food and fast service make this locally owned Spokane Valley restaurant a perennial favorite. Weekend three-course dinners for two ($32) feature special dishes, like medallions of beef with cabernet wild-mushroom demi-glace. Homemade bread (from dill to orange-spice) plus soup or salads accompany entrees. The Broadway pea salad is a wonderful blend of flavors and textures, and the tabbouleh salad sounds tempting. Iron-grilled salmon ($16) is tender and accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes (the real thing) and crunchy saut & eacute;ed veggies. Penne pasta with chicken and roasted garlic cream is flavorful and light. Choose from a variety of wines by the glass or bottle. And don't forget dessert -- moist carrot cake or indulgent mud pie. 10502 E. Sprague, 924-6022 (SH)


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. 610 W. Hubbard St. #110, Coeur d'Alene, (208) 676-8784 (SH)

Mamma Mia's

If you're longing for homestyle 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). 420 W. Francis Ave., 467-7786 (SH)

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