Strikin' Gold

by Susan Hamilton

Spokane has a high percentage of restaurants per capita for a city this size," declares Donna Tikker, Director of the Spokane Chapter of the Washington Restaurant Association. And we couldn't agree more. With new restaurants opening in every direction it seems, the Inland Northwest is ablaze with dining opportunities.

Take Prospectors Bar & amp; Grill on the West Plains. With an up-and-coming location between the new Hilton Hotel and the Trident plant, Prospectors is poised to take advantage of both airport traffic and new businesses in the area.

On Bloomsday Sunday, though Prospectors had only been open for five days, co-owner Cheryl Didier says that people were waiting in line for an hour for dinner. What did customers do while waiting that long? From the original ore carts out front to the miner memorabilia on the walls in the lobby, there's plenty to gander at. Not to mention the chain saw-carved, life-size bear and woodcarvings of Western scenes over the mantle pieces and roaring fireplaces.

Prospectors is no two-bit saloon. Didier has decorated the restaurant in deep green and maroon, with high-backed, pine branch chairs and work from local artisans -- ranging from a mural depicting miners at work to Tiffany-style lamps and pre-1900 dynamite boxes filled with miners' lamps, blasting caps and canteens. The river rock walls throughout the dining room are complemented by bright copper accents in the oversized rotisserie and brick-lined pizza oven.

And the grub at Prospectors is a cut above. Executive Chef Alexa Wilson calls it "American comfort food with a twist." Wilson takes familiar dishes and adds her own flair, garnered from her experience at Portland's Cordon Bleu, Tom Douglas' Etta's Seafood in Seattle and as the Davenport's banquet chef. She also offers large portions so customers can take something home with them.

The mesquite-grilled half chicken I tasted was fall-off-the-bone tender, with hints of smoke and pepper from the customized rub as well as a nice kick from the barbecue sauce topping. The creamy Yukon Gold mashed potatoes were the real thing, topped with a rich gravy.

All the soups, sauces and rubs are made in-house, as are the brick-oven breads. The flavorful rustic olive bread I tasted was chock-full of tasty kalamata olives. Prospectors also features corn bread with jalapeno jelly, scones, huckleberry muffins, buttermilk biscuits and garlic-cheese focaccia.

The extensive menu boasts 128 items, including a buffalo-jack tamale appetizer, white gold chili, Indian summer salad with smoked salmon and raspberries, a sourdough sirloin burger and a garlic chicken/three-cheese calzone. Entrees include baby back ribs, a 28-ounce porterhouse steak, eggplant charbroiled "steak," Grandma's turkey pot pie and cedar-plank salmon. Dessert highlights are cinnamon roll bread pudding with vanilla bean bourbon sauce, molten lemon brul & eacute;e with tangy lemon pudding and a chocolate truffle tower oozing with raspberry mousse and sauce.

Prospectors Bar & amp; Grill, at 9105 W. State Route #2, is open daily from 11 am-10 pm, and on Friday-Saturday until midnight. Call: 747-5579

Red Hot Mexico -- The popular Azteca Mexican restaurants have staked a claim on the North Side, with a newly opened restaurant in the Northpointe Center. The renovated restaurant sports "a whole new look for us that's more sophisticated," says manager Carla Barajas.

The upbeat, bright colors of the sectioned dining room are accented with south-of-the-border d & eacute;cor like shiny, turquoise parrots and black-and-white photos of the owners, their family and their employees. This Azteca has the feel of a friendly hacienda. And the spacious cantina and outdoor patio are perfect for margarita-sipping.

What is it about Azteca that makes it the favorite Mexican restaurant with Inlander readers year after year? The fresh and tasty enchiladas, burritos, fajitas and tostadas? The authentic Mexican fish, meat and seafood entrees? The tasty soups, salads and appetizers? All that and more.

The Ramos brothers utilize their mother's authentic family recipes for all their dishes. Nina Camerina was known as a good cook in her native Cuatla, Mexico. After tasting the camarones blancos -- a delectable blend of saut & eacute;ed shrimp, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and carrots over Mexican rice, topped with a creamy jalapeno sauce -- I had to agree. Azteca knows how to do it right.

Azteca, at 9704 N. Newport Hwy., is open daily from 11 am-10 pm and until 11 pm on Friday-Saturday. Call: 465-9101

It's Fish and Chips, Mate! -- Another popular Washington chain restaurant has reestablished itself on the North Side. Skippers Seafood 'n Chowder House returned to the area last week after a hiatus of five years. The North Division store is Skipper's fifth in the Inland Northwest.

This Skipper's sports a new look and d & eacute;cor. The traditional red, white and blue have been replaced by an upscale pink, yellow and blue with stainless steel accents, for a cleaner look.

But the mouth-watering fish and chips are what's drawing the customers back. Those tender, flaky battered-and-fried fish fillets, award-winning clam chowder and crispy fries just can't be beat, it seems. The addition of popular Northwest products, like Alaska barbecue salmon, halibut and Caesar salad, hasn't hurt business, either.

Skipper's, at 7115 N. Division St. #A, is open on Sunday-Thursday from 11 am-9 pm, and on Friday-Saturday from 11 am-10 pm. Call: 467-8432

Play It Again -- After housing the Spaghetti Station for the past 12 years and two pizza parlors before that, a restaurant on East Francis has experienced a rebirth as a sports bar and restaurant. Instant Replay has been extensively renovated to seat more customers, with room for pool tables, electronic games and video equipment as well.

Just opened last week, the restaurant's menu focuses on pizza, burgers, steaks and salads. It also has a full-service bar.

Instant Replay, at 718 E. Francis, is open daily from 10 am-2 am. Call: 484-9922

Dinner with an Award-Winner -- Next Tuesday's wine dinner at Sam's on Regal showcases award-winning Pend d'Oreille wines as well as a new concept -- open reservations.

"We've found that having open reservation times from 5:30 to 9 pm is very appealing to people rather than a set time, such as 7 pm," says owner Dale Fruin. "It allows people to attend the dinner and fit it around their lifestyle needs."

Executive Chef Paul Childers has come up with a scrumptious menu for the May 20th dinner. The six-course dinner includes an appetizer of seared scallops with arugula pesto paired with a 2001 syrah, an entr & eacute;e of beef medallions with bleu cheese-cabernet reduction served with a '98 cabernet sauvignon, and finished with a mocha tort and 2000 merlot.

Pend d'Oreille's handcrafted wines produced with traditional French methods have won awards from the prestigious Wine Spectator for their quality and elegance.

Call 443-1881 for reservations for the $55-per-person wine dinner.

Take a Bite -- Next Thursday from 5:30-9 pm at the "Taking a Bite Out of Hunger" gala, you can taste food from fine, local restaurants like Luigi's, Europa and Beverly's, as well as samplings of regional wines. The annual fund-raiser for the Second Harvest Food Bank features tantalizing tastes of hors d'oeuvres, salads, entrees, desserts, beer, wine and specialty coffees.

The May 22nd event at the Spokane Arena also offers live and silent auctions, with items like a seven-day, six-night voyage along the Columbia and Snake rivers "in the wake of Lewis and Clark." Call 534-6678 ext. 233 for tickets to the benefit, which are $50 per person.

Publication date: 05/15/03