by ANN M. COLFORD and DANIEL WALTERS & r & & r & ART ON A PLATE & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & ive area chefs riff on creativity and inspiration in the kitchen.
Executive chef at Ambrosia and Caf & eacute; Neo
Grilled salmon with apricot chili-ginger glaze
An Alaskan sockeye salmon fillet is saut & eacute;ed, topped with the glaze, set atop a risotto cake, then surrounded by a soy-miso broth and garnished with sweet pea shoots.
Ann M. Colford: What was your inspiration for this dish?
Jeremiah Timmons: Usually I grab something I like and start running around the kitchen till something grabs me. ... [Often] I've got to go in [the walk-in], get away from everybody ... Then something will come to you and you'll build off that. And little things inspire you, like the chili-garlic sauce. ... I like to go with the seasons -- not only with what's fresh, but when it's really hot, no one wants to fill up.
AC: How does this dish reflect your creativity?
JT: Well, you don't see a lot of broths in Spokane -- usually you see more heavy sauces ... And I like to have different textures to a dish. The risotto cake is the only really heavy part, then the pea sprouts are light and will open it up and be like a palate cleanser within the dish. The glaze on the salmon doesn't overwhelm it, but it's kind of sweet, and salmon needs a little bit of sweetness, I think, and a little bit of acid. That brings out the flavor in the salmon. ... I believe in having the flavors meld together.
AC: After you make this work of art, someone eats it and it's gone. Does that bother you?
JT: If you come back through the door to get it again, then I've done my job. It may look pretty when it goes out, but that's your piece of art. You just bought it. So you get to enjoy it and have that memory.
AC: [After tasting] There are layers of flavors... The broth is light, risotto is creamy, and the miso isn't overpowering but adds a nice earthiness... that is wonderful.
JT: Thank you ... If someone's eating it, and they're happy, then -- that's made my day.
BISTRO ON SPRUCE
Chef, Bistro on Spruce, Coeur d'Alene
Cornish game hen, accentuated with a lobster-mushroom risotto, broccolini and a sherry gastrique sauce
Daniel Walters: What's unique about this dish?
Everett Fees: I don't know that there's anything cutting edge. The only thing that might make it unique is a couple of different flavor profiles, [like the Sherry Gastrique] and the way the bird is grilled. ... We'll wow [our guests] but not intimidate them.
DW: Does the temporal nature of your art bother you? I mean, you serve it, they eat it, and it's gone forever.
EF: Not at all. It's a performance art. It's just like with musicians. They play a song; it's finished. The song doesn't keep coming back -- it's in the memory. Nothing makes me feel better [than] to walk into the dining room and see smiles and people saying, "That was great." That's that applause every chef wants. That drive that makes us continue to produce. I love food. This is a labor of passion.
DW: How important is the visual aspect of the dish?
EF: I think that before you ever taste anything, you've eaten it with your eyes. If it doesn't look appealing, it's not going to provide the wow factor with your tastebuds... I think the green from the broccolini, the lemon zest give it a contrast -- a combination of colors, but nothing too over the top. I'm not standing things in towers. You've got to be able to approach it.
DW: This dish tastes very classic and homey to me, like something your grandma might make if she was a fantastic chef.
EF: That's what this is. It's got warm tones ... You're paying an honest price for an honest product. I think it's what the community wants ... I just feel comfortable and blessed that I have a little bit of this talent that I can share with people. It's something people enjoy.
Chef/owner, Hay J's Bistro, Liberty Lake
Seafood Cobb Salad, featuring crab meat, grilled tiger prawn shrimp, ahi tuna, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, avocados, Gorgonzola and marinated tuna -- all covered in a sweet salad dressing
Daniel Walters: Is this dish especially popular at Hay J's?
Patrick Fechser: This is one of my favorites. It's one of everybody's favorites. A lot of people talk about it around Liberty Lake. If I meet someone and I tell them what I do, they mention it a lot of times.
DW: What was your inspiration for this dish?
PF: I had a salad similar to it in Huntington Beach when I was down there. ... [I liked] just how fresh the seafood seemed. It felt like I was eating something healthy.
DW: Are the flavors more similar or contrasting?
PF: They're more similar. There's a little bit of contrast in there with the applewood-smoked bacon. But mostly, everything has a little touch of sweetness to it.
DW: How important is the full combination of ingredients in this dish?
PF: It's hard to please everyone, but it matters a lot. If someone wants it a different way, we do it.... If they don't want tomatoes, I'm just like, "Ah, man it's not the same without that." But then again, I understand that [some] people don't like tomatoes or cucumbers or eggs.
DW: What's the secret to the dressing?
PF: It's just a really good dressing that people seem to love a lot. It came out well. ... [It contains] olive oil, fresh oregano, a little brown sugar and thyme, a little pepper and red wine vinegar...
DW: Does it bug you, that people eat your art and then it's gone?
PF: If I see it come back and it's not completely gone, I always ask the server, "Was everything okay?" Ask any of the servers -- I ask plenty of the times, to make sure everything is good.
Chef de cuisine, Madeleine's
Pan-seared scallops in white truffle-infused butter sauce with capers, red onions and white wine, served with Yukon Gold smashed potatoes, asparagus and tiny roasted tomatoes
Ann M. Colford: The flavors in the sauce are subtle... gentle.
Mercia Sheets: I wanted it to not overwhelm the scallops.... I'm still experimenting with how much [white truffle oil] to put in ... it's the kind of flavor that can go from "subtle" to "wow" quickly.
AC: With the tomatoes -- you get a bit of the browned, smoky flavor.
MS: And a little astringency, so it offsets the richness of all the butter... and it's supposed to go "pop."
AC: Is this a new dish?
MS: I just developed this. During the summer, I did scallops but they were pancetta-wrapped, and everybody does that, so I don't want to do that anymore.... I had white truffle oil, which I wanted to incorporate into the fall menu. The white truffle, the white wine, the capers and the butter -- it's all very French. With our dinner menu, I try to keep within the French profile -- but unexpected ways of doing it, like fresh ways of working at these dishes. So, adding the little roasted tomatoes -- for color, and flavor -- plus with fall, you have a lot of roasted things.... I felt that doing the scallops that way is very French, very colorful, and a little different from what other people are doing with scallops right now.
AC: Is that typical of your creative process?
MS: I'll come up with a star ingredient, or a pair, and build from there. And I'm a visual artist as well ... so, one of the most fulfilling parts of cheffing for me is the plating, and making it look fun and beautiful -- but not overdone.
AC: Not to the point where people don't want to touch it because it's too pretty?
MS: I want people to [look at it and] go, "Wow!" -- and then want to tuck right in.
MAX AT MIRABEAU
Executive chef, Max at the Mirabeau Park Hotel, Spokane Valley
Pine nut-crusted Chilean sea bass, topped with crispy yellow beets, and set on a bed of pur & eacute;ed celery root and saffron-tomato relish. This dish won the People's Choice award at last year's Epicurean Delight gala.
Daniel Walters: What was your inspiration for this dish?
Mike Thornton: We had a deadline for Epicurean Delight, so we just sat down and put this together. Me and my sous chefs sat down and bounced ideas back and forth.
DW: What's unique about this dish?
MT: The Chilean sea bass really wasn't on the scene in Spokane. Now you're starting to see it all over the place. We're also using different vegetables -- the celery-root pur & eacute;e is a unique starch.
DW: Are the flavors in the dish more divergent or consistent?
MT: A little bit of both. You have quite a few different flavor profiles ... The celery root brings a nice earthy tone. You've got the nice soft fish with the crispy yellow [curls] on top -- the beets themselves are on the sweet side. The flavor of the dish can be strong, or it can be subtle. It depends on which bite.
DW: How does this dish reflect your creativity?
MT: It wraps me up in a nutshell. The flavors, the colors -- it's just a very eye-appealing dish. ... I like a lot of height and a lot of colors. Servers hate carrying it out to the dining room. Everything falls off.
DW: Can a good chef make a phenomenal dish out of almost anything?
MT: It has a lot to do with the quality of ingredients. I never go look at price. We use the best quality products we can. A lot of organic produce ... Our clientele asks for it.
DW: How has the increasing visibility of famous chefs affected your job?
MT: It's getting harder to really wow people. People's standards are raised. We're starting to understand more flavors, push the envelope. We follow trends, but we also do trend setting. We're doing things people haven't seen.
THREE MEN AND A VEGETARIAN ENTREE
by NICHOLAS DESHAIS, JACOB H. FRIES and DANIEL WALTERS
214 N. Howard St. * 747-2004
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & kip this one-meal business. We need to eat. Vegetarian is how real men roll, and men we are. Of course, being men, just one veggie dish will not do, so we hit up two joints back to back. First up: Mizuna. After serving strictly vegetarian entr & eacute;es and appetizers for its first five years, this downtown eatery changed its menu to service those whose inclinations are more carnivorous. Regardless, the menu still has many options for the vegetarian, vegan or piscatarian -- whatever you may be. The lunch menu has plenty to offer, but for a true rainbow of meatless palate pleasers, ask for the vegetarian dinner menu and gorge. (ND)
NICK -- Grilled Eggplant and Goat Cheese Sandwich ($9)
Mmm, the cheese of goat. I love it. (Really, it's good. Don't be frightened.) And on this sandwich, this ill-regarded cheese -- otherwise known as ch & egrave;vre -- might just win your heart. Layered on a slightly grilled baby baguette, the ch & egrave;vre warmly cradles fresh-roasted red peppers, grilled onions, scrumptious greens and, to top it off, some red-pepper aioli. At first I was wary: Hard baguette crust makes war on my gums. After the first bite, though, I was won over. The bread was soft and warm; the peppers, fresh and tender; the ch & egrave;vre, creamy and tart; and the greens added the crisp snap needed. As for sides, pick your poison, but the thinly sliced fries are killer.
JACOB -- Portobello Sandwich ($10)
I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't mind vegetable-centric dishes -- as long as they're flavorful (and don't taste too much like plain-old vegetables). With only so many options on the menu, I jumped at "Portobello mushroom sandwich with cambozola cheese," despite the fact I didn't know what cambozola was. I've since learned that it's a combination of soft French cheese, in the model of Camembert, and Italian Gorgonzola, and I found it creamy, tangy and delicious -- a nice complement to the meaty, generous portion of Portobello mushrooms. With thin-cut fries as my side, I didn't miss the meat or the grease you get with a traditional burger.
DANIEL -- Linguini with Shiitakes and Basil Pesto ($10)
I'm not really a veggie man. As a child, vegetables were but a pesky barrier standing between me and the dessert and freedom waiting on the other side. But I still love a good pasta dish. The pasta and vegetables here are fine. They're fresh. They're cooked right. They're tasty. But the pesto -- thick, rich and buttery -- is the real star. The pesto dominates the dish, tying the half-dozen different textures and tinges into one cohesive taste. It's liberally slathered on the noodles and soaked completely through the mushrooms. The best bites mash together the noodles with the herbed breadcrumbs sprinkled on top -- combining ingredients soft and crunchy. The one thing that could make it better? Meat.
Linnie's Thai Cuisine
1301 W. Third Ave. * 838-0626
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ext up, Linnie's. The nooks and crannies of booths, the long sprawling bar, the cavernous dark room in the back of the restaurant near the restrooms, they all speak to that feeling: You can get lost here. Surrounded by roaring traffic and smack dab in a concrete sea, Linnie's isn't a place where regulars go to contemplate the finer things in life. We come here to eat awesome Thai food (almost any dish available without meat), drink Tiger beer (or any of many cocktails) or straight-up hide from just about anyone. Be on the lookout for the spicy star system: Five stars -- the meek shoot for one and the foolhardy ask for five. But be a Goldilocks and ask for three. It's just right. (ND)
NICK -- Curry Vegetable Tofu ($11)
Yes, yes, the manifold meat dishes of Thailand. They are too good to pass up, no? Wrong. Another fine invention of Asia is here to help, and I believe it was made specifically to be in Thai food. Its name? Tofu. In this curry dish at Linnie's, the triangular-cut tofu was surrounded by broccoli, two colors of peppers, bok choy, and basil -- a pleasing assortment. I asked for three stars of spicy, and I got it. The heat was there, a constant, but kept to itself, allowing me to taste the rest of the dish. If you've never had curry, there's no way to explain it. This red curry has a base of coconut milk, resulting in a rich, complex and nutty flavor.
JACOB -- Pahd Thai ($8)
Without fail, I order red curry chicken whenever I eat Thai. (It was the first Thai food I ever had and I've never been able to shake that mind-blowing experience.) Unfortunately, Nick had already claimed the one vegetarian curry, so I went for the Pahd Thai with tofu and a Tiger beer. I was happily surprised to find the dish full of flavor, with heat and spice in every bite. Along with peanuts, eggs, green onion and sprouts, the noodles were filling -- if not for the bottomless pit that is Daniel, I think I could have made two meals out of it. This dish might not be strictly "vegetarian" because it traditionally uses fish sauce -- but hey, what are you going to do?
DANIEL -- Pahd Kana Tofu ($9.25)
Oyster sauce drizzled over white rice, accompanied by chunks of tofu and broccoli. That's what this dish is. That's all this dish is. The oyster sauce -- simultaneously sweet and spicy -- is delicious. The tofu is firm -- some of the best my skeptical palate has ever tasted. The cooked broccoli is perfectly adequate. But that's about as exciting as it gets. Tofu is tofu. Broccoli is broccoli. White rice is white rice. It's squishy blob meets squishy blob. The meal needs another ingredient -- something smaller or crunchier or simply different -- to justify ordering it. It's a fine-tasting meal, but I found myself coveting the snazzier Pahd Thai across the table.
THREE WOMEN AND A SPORTS BAR
by M.C. PAUL, DEE ANN COOK and ANN M. COLFORD
THE SWINGING DOORS
1018 W. Francis Ave. * 326-6794
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he place is hoppin' on Friday after work. It's seat-yourself (unless you've called in a reservation), but luckily we only wait a few minutes to score a comfy round booth. It's Prime Rib Night, and nearly every seat is claimed by customers ranging in age from barely legal to barely moving. The expansive menu is classic pub food: nachos, fried things, sandwiches and meatloaf. There's a long list of draft beers, 18 wines (glass or bottle) and a full bar. The 60 TVs are tuned almost exclusively to sports (except for the lingerie infomercials), and their hazy blue glow creates an ambience that doesn't change from day to night -- perfect for a gals' night out. (AC)
M.C. -- Broasted Chicken ($12)
Nearly two pounds of hand-cut Washington-grown chicken is treated to a "secret marinade," breaded and pressure fried to produce a dark-brown crispy outside and a succulently steaming inside that's not overly greasy. A leg, thigh, wing and breast come with choice of soup, salad or fries. Caving to peer pressure, and having had my share of onion rings, I choose the salad (ranch on the side) -- which I ignore. Among the 20 microbrews on tap, I hit on a pint of Mac and Jack's African Amber Ale ($4.50) because I like the name -- AND because the waitress assures me it isn't at all hoppy. This provides a smooth balance to the savory crispness of the chicken skin. (That's the best part; admit it!)
DEE ANN -- Doors Fish ($12)
Is it starve a cold and feed a fever? I personally opt to feed my cold, since the taste buds are willing and able. (Besides, it's my first chance to tag along on an editorial food fest, and I want to impress these veteran writers with my food savvy.) I'm always on the hunt for hard-to-find fish and chips, so the Doors Fish -- four hand-cut pieces of Icelandic cod lightly breaded and perfectly cooked -- with fries is the perfect medicine. The fries are lightly salted and crisp, and both are served with Doors' homemade tartar. To assist in the washing down process, I enjoy a precisely chilled Manny's Pale Ale ($4.50/16-oz.) out of Seattle. Prognosis? Just what the doctor ordered.
ANN -- Barb's Beacon Burger ($8)
A single 5-ounce Angus chuck patty is charbroiled then served up on a sesame-seed bun with bacon slices, lettuce, cheddar cheese, pickles and "special seasoning." Whatever the seasoning is, it's subtle, knitting flavors together rather than overpowering. On the side, I can get soup, salad or fries; I choose salad -- a huge bowl of lettuce, carrots and cabbage. My deep-fried-food quota comes in the platter of thick-cut onion rings ($6) that we split. I opt for a glass of Townshend's Red Table wine ($7), which blends well with the earthy, smoky burger and makes a nice alternative for those of us who aren't always on speaking terms with beer. And did we mention the swoon-worthy chocolate cake ($6)? Oh, baby, come to Mama.
315 N. Ross Point Rd., Post Falls * (208) 457-8020
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & apone's in Post Falls has risen from the ashes of last year's arson fire with a brand-new space and plenty of sports memorabilia -- much of it dedicated to Tom Capone's favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. (I felt right at home in my pink 2004 Red Sox World Series Champions baseball cap.) The place draws a mixed crowd at lunchtime, but no matter what the time of day, you'll find dozens of beers on tap, a small but high-quality selection of wines by the glass, and drinks ranging from simple to frou-frou (i.e., topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry). Breads (including pizza dough), soups, salad dressings and desserts (cheesecake!) are all made from scratch. Food and service are both top-notch. (AC)
M.C. -- Build-Your-Own Burger ($10)
Oh, so many choices. The base burger is a full half-pound of grilled sirloin steamed in beer to be delectably moist. It's served on a sesame-seed bun with shredded lettuce, sliced pickle, tomato and red onion on the plate. Sixteen additional toppings are available: The Gorgonzola sounds tempting but dangerous, so I choose grilled peppers, roasted garlic and Swiss. I also get a six-pack of condiments. Sides are green salad, specialty salad or fries, and I choose the thin, crispy fries. The waitress suggests Blue Moon Ale ($4/pint) -- "the ladies' favorite" -- that comes with a hefty slice of orange to enhance the coriander and orange peel used in the brewing process. Hey, who you callin' a lady?
DEE ANN -- Chicken Pizza ($15)
The second I open the menu, the Artichoke Garlic Cheese Spread ($7) catches my eye. (I wonder if I'll have to arm-wrestle my companions to lick the bowl?) For medicinal purposes, I order a North Idaho Avalanche ($6) -- Kahlua, dark creme de cocoa and raspberry liqueur mixed with hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Next came my pizza -- sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, the perfect blend of cheeses on a soft-yet-crispy dough... need I go on? But I'm a glutton for punishment, so I order the peanut butter chocolate cheesecake ($5), made in house, rich, yet smooth enough to satisfy the pickiest of cheesecake snobs. Someone, please, roll me out to the car.
ANN -- Tom's Lasagna ($12)
At any potluck, you'll bump into a pan of something called "lasagna" -- but those are shallow imitators. If you want real lasagna, the kind you'd have found on the table of any self-respecting Italian-American family 40 years ago, the kind that oozes with ricotta, Italian sausage and garlicky tomato sauce, then hie thee to Capone's posthaste and hope that Tom's family-recipe lasagna is the special. A sizeable portion in an oval casserole comes with four chunks of garlic bread and a generous green salad. A glass of 14 Hands Cab ($5.25) complements the warm goodness of both the lasagna and the artichoke-garlic-cheese spread ($7) -- a creamy and not-too-thick dipper for pita triangles. A sundae ($4) made with real hot fudge seals the deal.
by ANN M. COLFORD
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's early on a weekday morning, and the Satellite Diner is humming. About half of the seats in the place are full. Bacon sizzles on the grill, the scent of coffee permeates everything, and a congenial buzz of conversation fills the room. Wendi Bryant, the diner's sole weekday breakfast server, moves from counter to table and back, refilling coffee mugs, taking orders and delivering meals while teasing the regulars, singing along with the radio, answering the phone and making sure the newcomer gets water and coffee in less than two minutes.
"When you're working a shift alone, make it your own," she says. "Let your personality out. Make it so people want to come in and see you."
It's just a typical morning for Bryant, who started waitressing at the Satellite nine years ago as she was finishing college and thinking about going into social work. Instead, the morning regulars became her clients -- "I'm kind of getting my fulfillment here," she says with a wry smile.
Bryant starts her shift at 5:30 am, cleaning the counters and booths, making the coffee and getting prepared for the 7 am opening time. She wraps up her day by about 12:30 pm, handing the place over to the afternoon server. But while she's on duty, it's her show, and the diner's customers are in her hands. The key to good service, she says, is thinking ahead and anticipating what those customers will need before they even realize it.
"If I have two tables come in at once, I'll find out first what their beverages are," she says. "Then, if I'm getting coffee and water, I'll just make the rounds of the restaurant. Once I know that all the other people are settled, then I can focus on the new people."
When things get busy, she says, communication with the customers is important. She'll acknowledge them as she passes the table even if she doesn't have time to stop.
"I just keep talking to them," she says. "I'll say, 'I'm really trying to get to you,' or 'I have to go run this food and I swear I'll be right back.' It's prioritizing, because the hot food is what matters. And most people understand that, because they want hot food."
Good servers know how to read people intuitively, Bryant says, picking up cues from body language and other nonverbal communication. "Some people don't want a lot of interaction," she explains. "They just want a good meal, and to read the paper, have their coffee, and that's it. But other people -- they're coming in to joke around with you. It's like you develop a relationship."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t a fine dining establishment, the surface details -- crisp black and white attire, highly polished shoes -- may look different than at the diner, but the heart of good service remains constant. "You never know what's going to walk in the door," says Bethe Bowman, a 20-year front-of-the-house veteran who handles the dinner shift at the Wild Sage with aplomb. "You need to be a chameleon, to go with the flow, to change if you have to, because not every customer is the same."
At any given time, Bowman says, she may have one table of business people having a meeting over their meal, another filled with young women wanting cocktails and fun for a bachelorette party, and another group of friends who know one other well and want to converse intimately over wine and a complete meal. As their server, she has to be just right for all of them.
"The best servers have empathy for people," she says. "You have to like people. A good server will help you, almost like a mothering situation. A server has to be a nurturing person."
Like Bryant, Bowman says a server has to plan ahead and be a good listener, but she adds that the best servers have to be able to take control of the dining experience.
"When a customer sits down to eat, they think that they're in control, but really I'm in control," she says. "I know the best way to work with the kitchen, the best way to make the experience happen for them. As a server, you need to be able to control situations, because things can get out of control quickly."
In essence, the server is a tour guide for diners, smoothly navigating the restaurants' systems so they have a flawlessly pleasant meal -- and providing some entertainment along the way.
"As a server, you're orchestrating the diners' experience," she says. "Service is first about listening and anticipating what somebody wants. And then it's showmanship."
At fine dining restaurants, guests are often at the table for two hours or more -- plenty of time to become attached to an entertaining and competent server.
"In that environment, it becomes a really personal thing," she says. "When people think about restaurant service, they don't think about it in the same way as, say, your hairstylist, but that's exactly what it is. I tell young waiters that you can grow your own clientele as a server. You can develop a following of people who'll ask just for you."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ack at the Satellite, Bryant sees many of the same faces regularly -- people who come through those doors and want to see her. "They're the ones who really keep me going," she says. "I love it when people come in, and they're part of my day, whether it's once a week, or every day. It makes me feel comfortable. It's my little diner family, and I love seeing them."
She may be slinging eggs and coffee, but Bryant feels like she's doing her own version of social work at the diner.
"It's fun to fuss and fawn over someone," she says. "And who knows who else they have in their lives who'll do that for them? They could leave these doors and not have anyone else to talk to for the rest of the day. If they can just come in for 20 minutes and get some kind of reprieve -- for me, that's what it's all about."