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The Inlander Staff & r & & r & CIAO MAMBO & r & & r & Ciao Mambo has figured out the formula for success as sort of a sexier Tomato Street. Yet they boast a wine list of nearly 40 domestic and imported red and white varieties. Part of a small chain that originates in Montana, Ciao Mambo has an Olive Garden feel that may appeal to many diners: It's got brightly colored walls, Rat Pack music in the background, and a well-rounded menu of appetizers, soup and salad, pasta, pizza, kids' portions and even dessert. The cozze (mussels) was wonderfully done, with a hearty and flavorful fish stock and perfectly al dente linguine. The fresh basil tempered the savory stock, and the mussels -- more than a dozen of them -- were nicely done. The insalata di melanzane alla parmigiana ($13) was also wonderful on an earlier visit: thick slices of eggplant, a smoky-earthy flavor and thick cheese. The lasagna is a dense dish of pasta, saut & eacute;ed spinach, meat sauce, ricotta and mozzarella -- a well-constructed dish. Pizzas are done brick-oven style and include nine combos plus the option to build your own. Ciao Mambo is definitely a socially oriented restaurant and would be a fun place to hook up with your own Rat Pack. 8166 N. Government Way, Coeur d'Alene, (208) 772-9555 (CS)





OLIVE OILZ


The d & eacute;cor at Olive Oilz doesn't scream Italian -- it's more Americana -- but the menu is all Mediterranean, from Spanish paella ($25) to several pasta dishes and a dozen enticing antipasti (appetizers). The soups at Olive Oilz are outstanding -- the creamy tomato vegetable soup with Gorgonzola and the rich creamy curried lentil alone are worth a visit. Among entr & eacute;es, the orzo pasta with chicken featured tender chunks of chicken in a lemon-basil cream sauce ($18). The New York strip steak with wild-mushroom Gorgonzola sauce ($22) arrived in bite-size pieces, and it was almost melt-in-your-mouth tender. The pasta with large prawns ($18) -- angel hair pasta in a tomato-saffron sauce with Italian sausage and prawns -- was amazing and popular. The house-made crab cakes shared a plate with a small lettuce salad ($15), both topped with sun-dried tomato pesto that was subtle enough to enhance the taste of the crab cakes, although a tad mild as a salad dressing. Two breads, baked in-house, accompanied the meal. We finished with a hopped-up, piece-of-pie-shaped brownie ($6.50), moist, with a crumbly top layer, drizzled chocolate frosting and chocolate shavings. From bread to dessert, Olive Oilz is friendly, cozy and comfortable. 2812 E. 30th Ave., 535-3104 (DN)





THE VIKING TAVERN


The Viking is a Spokane tradition, with a full menu of sandwiches, burgers, salads and appetizers -- not to mention that fabulous selection of beers. The sandwiches are big and tasty any time of day. And if they've got bacon cheeseburger chowder, go for it. Service is prompt, friendly and comfortable without being pushy. As befits the general comfort level at the Viking, we lingered long after our meals were done. 1221 N. Stevens St., 326-2942 (AC)





HILLS' RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE


The same neighborly pub attitude and atmosphere that made Hills' first restaurant a local classic has been transported to a new, airier home across from Auntie's. Hills' still serves some of Spokane's most satisfying salads, including the succulent Southern Fried Chicken Salad ($9) with chunks of crunchy-breaded bird enlivened by a zingy mustard dressing. Chips made from local (Olsen Farm) potatoes can accompany any one of the 10 burgers or sandwiches, but the restaurant's premium offerings are their steaks. Serving Brandt True Natural Beef, Hills' offers diners a choice of six different steak cuts ($10-$25) and 14 freshly made sauces ($1.50-$6) ranging from bistro (Gorgonzola) to cuisine (B & eacute;arnaise). The Scotch egg ($3.75) -- hard-boiled, wrapped in sausage and breaded -- is a crisp-fried wonder with which to start any meal. And if the day's menu includes fresh sorbets or ice creams, save room -- Hills' makes them from scratch. 401 W. Main Ave., 747-3946 (MD)





AMBROSIA


Inside the attractive dining room, with its warm, richly painted walls and shiny dark wood tables, you'll find a pleasant start with the simple hummus appetizer ($7) -- clear, clean flavors of lemon, garlic and cumin and a drizzle of olive oil accented the sensuous chickpea puree, served up with warm triangles of grilled flatbread. Our French onion soup ($6) was rich and tasty, with the croutons and cheese on top, and lots of onions in the broth. The appealingly earthy gnudi ($15), a cousin of gnocci, is made with ricotta cheese and topped with crisped prosciutto, fresh sage and mushrooms. And the butternut squash ravioli, with browned butter, cranberries and crumbled sage, captures the flavors of fall. 9112 E. Montgomery Ave., 928-3222 (LM)

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