by LAUREN McALLISTER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne of the best views of the Spokane River as it flows through downtown comes from the windows of the restaurant at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park. The hotel is removed from the chi-chi Davenport district, and its restaurant seems to fly below the radar of locals looking for an elegant evening out.
On a recent visit, however, we enjoyed valet parking at the front door. The hotel's lobby has been unpretentiously updated, with rich golden walls and a pleasant fireplace gathering area. Likewise the restaurant has undergone a renovation to create a sleeker, more urban look. Geometric shapes on the carpet were echoed in the luxurious floor-to-ceiling draperies, left open of course to reveal the stunning view of the river, rippling between snowy banks not too far below, and a beautiful reflection of the colorfully lighted Pavilion.
On the weeknight we visited, there weren't too many other diners, and a call for a reservation just a couple of hours before we wanted to eat afforded us the best table in the house. Our little table by the window sported unique place settings -- a silvery placemat and a cool, asymmetrical napkin ring holding a pale blue cloth napkin. Tea lights added warmth to the sleek setting and cast a warm glow as we settled in to peruse the menu.
We decided to start with the bacon-wrapped prawns ($9). Three good-sized crustaceans arrived, wrapped in smoky bacon and grilled. Baby bok choy was served alongside. The dish was distinguished by the yummy, sweet-hot cilantro garlic sauce pooled on the plate. The flavors of this dish went well together -- the sweet, smoky prawns offset by the crunchy bok choy and tangy cilantro. I was also intrigued by the Ahi Napoleon, with seared ahi tuna layered with crisp wonton skins, field greens and pickled ginger, with a wasabi aioli and ponzu sauce ($11). For an update on a comfort-food favorite, I might consider the garlic sweet-potato fries with fresh basil and parmesan ($6).
Instead of a Caesar salad, I opted for the forest mushroom soup ($6) on the advice of our server, and I was glad I made that choice. The soup was almost blindingly rich, but the meaty sliced mushrooms were really allowed to shine in the creamy base, no doubt aided by the healthy drizzle of white truffle oil on top.
My companion's spinach salad with Asian pear ($6) was also a real treat. It was perfectly dressed in a light, sesame oil vinaigrette that went well with the red onions and rich feta in the salad. Crunch, with a nod to the salad's Asian persuasion, was provided by a sprinkling of crispy fried wontons.
With the bread course came a delightful surprise -- a generous portion of a lovely olive tapenade. We gobbled it up with abandon, and overheard guests at other tables also commenting on this little gift from the chef.
Because Windows is a hotel restaurant, the entr & eacute;e selection offers a little something for everyone. There's a Kobe beef steak burger ($12) and a deluxe-sounding BLT with pepper bacon on walnut wheat bread. My companion had his heart set on the three-cheese (Cougar gold, fontina and Jack cheese) macaroni with pan-seared sea scallops ($18), asparagus and mushrooms. That didn't seem like a particularly auspicious-sounding pairing to me, and we didn't get to see who was right because it wasn't available. Instead he went with the spicy prawn saut & eacute; ($19). Big tiger shrimp were tossed with Napa cabbage and snap peas in a black bean sauce. While my companion enjoyed the dish, I found the snap peas pale and a bit overcooked, and the sauce seemed to taste of Chinese five-spice, which somehow didn't go well with the prawns. Overall, the dish lacked pizzazz.
More successful was my grilled smoked duck ($19) with a ginger-molasses glaze. Apple-smoked duck was grilled with a sweet sticky sauce, leaving the skin crisp and flavorful, the inside smoky and rich. This was a nice dish, balanced out by the wild rice and broccolini accompaniment.
A rustic pork osso bucco ($24) over grilled polenta also caught my eye. Our server was high on the grilled rib eye ($26) with garlic Portobello mushrooms. For vegetarians, there's a great-sounding sesame-crusted tofu with yakisoba and grilled baby bok choy ($15). The vodka-tomato penne pasta with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives might also be an option ($15).
The dessert menu was impressive. Crepes with three different fillings caught my eye immediately. But no dice. They weren't available. Nor was the amazing-sounding poached pear in a baked phyllo crust. So our waiter comped us a molten chocolate cake ($9). While it was a generous gesture, the cake itself wasn't too impressive, seemingly a three-layer chocolate cake warmed up to melt the frosting a bit and dosed up with a big spoonful of cr & egrave;me fraiche. The vanilla cheesecake ($8) had a thick but crumbly graham cracker crust -- not enough butter in there -- while the filling was dried out and flavorless.
In spite of some bumps with the dessert menu, Windows has much to offer. The menu is reasonably priced, with options from Asian to Italian to Northwest in style. The interior is creative and pleasantly designed. And the view is unbeatable.