Heritage Flavors

Owned by the Kalispel Indians, Masselow's promises fine dining with a tribal influence

A miniature birch-bark canoe arrived at my table with two bite-sized pieces of Indian fry bread and small jar of huckleberry compote tucked inside. “This is a gift from the Kalispel tribe to whet your appetite,” the waiter announced as he placed the canoe on the table.

Masselow’s is located in the Northern Quest Resort, which is owned and operated by the Kalispel Tribe. “The restaurant is an opportunity for the Kalispel Tribe to say thank you and welcome to our house,” says Executive Sous Chef Scott Miller. Billed as serving Northwest contemporary cuisine, Masselow’s also strives to celebrate the heritage of the tribe, both in the décor and in the menu offerings.

High chandeliers and soft earth tones give Masselow’s a comfortably elegant feel. The photos of Kalispel tribal members that line the walls give a glimpse of life at the turn of the 20 th century. (The restaurant is named for the Kalispel chief of that era, who was immortalized in a photograph by Edward Curtis.)

In designing the menu, Miller consulted with tribal elders to get a feel for what they might have served visitors to their homes in that time period. Often, very little food was available, and guests might have been offered butter made from pork scraps, hard biscuits and bits of dried deer or caribou. Miller says it seemed like a paradox to create an upscale dining experience based on such meager ingredients, so the chef got playful with the word “influence.”

“What drives the menu with Native influence is the land, the seasons and the community,” says Miller. He explains that means using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. “We’re picking out the best regional producers — for these people, it’s their lives,” Miller says of suppliers like Snake River Farms and Petit Chat Village Bakery.

The other influence was the tribe’s use of what the land offers. “The menu will change throughout the seasons,” says Miller.

“When spring comes, look for even more regional farmers and ranchers on our menu.” The changing seasons will also influence the cooking style of dishes appearing on the menu, with fall and winter featuring braises, and come spring, Miller can’t wait to experiment with pea vines.

So, less influenced by the food than the lifestyle. Using locally sourced, seasonally appropriate ingredients, Miller hopes to honor the heritage of the tribe — who were locavores before it became fashionable.

When you visit, you’ll be offered still or sparkling water, an impressive choice of Spokane wines by the glass, and Italian herb bread with three kinds of butter (all delicious). The food is creative, well executed and artistically presented — the dessert menu even lights up. The service is attentive and friendly. As far as fine dining goes, Masselow’s delivers.

But it left me hungry for more. I wanted to taste the earthiness of the land and the smoke from the campfi re. In talking with Miller, it’s clear he has the vision and passion to create a menu that more fully reflects these elements. Kudos to him for wanting to push the envelope to offer a truly unique dining experience. Let’s hope that as diners come to know and trust Masselow’s, Miller will be able to add traditional dishes that more fully embrace and celebrate the Indian heritage of our region.

Masselow’s 100 N. Hayford Rd., Airway Heights Open daily 6-11 am for breakfast, 4-10 pm for dinner Call 242-7000

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