A Blooming Bistro

by Susan Hamilton

With the large and growing interest in upscale casual dining, it's not surprising that bistros and brasseries are regaining their once trendy popularity," writes Elizabeth Sloan in Food Technology magazine. "Their fresh, affordable, casual fare served in a fun, lively atmosphere symbolizes the way America loves to eat."

The Lake City's Market Caf & eacute; is a quintessential neighborhood bistro. Its atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed, the food is sophisticated and comforting, and prices are reasonable.

This corner eatery has reinvented itself since opening last spring, when it offered breakfast and lunch service. Owners Joe and Sarah Hamilton (no relation to me) have since decided to focus on dinner rather than breakfast. Other changes at the restaurant this fall include a new d & eacute;cor in warm yellow and plum, accented by paintings of the Three Tenors, plants, candle sconces and mirrors.

Chef and manager Angelo Brunson's experience in Washington and California restaurants has served him well in expanding the menu at Market Caf & eacute;. "I had an Italian restaurant in Marysville, so I brought in some of my favorite Italian dishes, steak and fish," Brunson reveals.

When my family and I dined at Market Caf & eacute; last week, we tried a variety of Brunson's fare. The Gulf shrimp avocado boat appetizer features a medley of flavors, textures and colors. Succulent shrimp are complemented by a spicy chipotle-garlic sauce and crunchy threads of fried potato--a fine beginning to any meal. The mushroom soup is silky and savory, with a strong base of vegetable broth. Market Cafe's salad of field greens sports carrot shavings, delicate rings of red onion and tiny chunks of tomato, as well as toasted sunflower seeds--all dressed with a tasty but not overpowering vinaigrette.

Brunson's flavorful sesame-ginger-crusted tuna entree finds contrast in a spicy red-pepper sauce. The lobster ravioli is an upscale take on an Italian staple. Its light, creamy tomato sauce perfectly complements the lobster-cheese blend enclosed in pasta pillows. The chicken Mediterraneo is accented by a delicate cream sauce and highlighted by artichokes, roasted peppers and mushrooms. I appreciate that Brunson takes as much care with the accompanying vegetables as he does with the artfully presented main dishes, many of which utilize organic ingredients. Brunson also takes the time to chat with diners during the evening, which is always a nice touch.

Desserts by pastry chef Sally McCoy include a huckleberry cheesecake that is flavorfully light yet filling, a dense bread pudding covered with brandy sauce and a tempting mocha-almond fudge torte with strawberry filling. The wine list includes many Northwest vintages and a few organic ones.

The Market Caf & eacute;, at 1404 N. Fourth St. (at Walnut St.) in Coeur d'Alene, is open Monday-Saturday from 11 am-3 pm for lunch, on Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9 pm, and on Friday-Saturday from 5-10 pm for dinner. Call (208) 665-1682.

Restaurants' Resurgence -- Three established Inland Northwest restaurants are also reinventing themselves.

Solicitor's Corner has been a familiar eatery in North Spokane for eight years. New owner John Siok is shaking things up a bit. "I want to keep it lively," Siok says. "I also want to make it a premier dining spot on the North Side."

The interior will remain essentially the same, with dark woods and a warm ambience. But the menu, which hasn't changed since 1995, will get an infusion of creative new dishes. Customer favorites, like the signature clam chowder, slow-cooked prime rib and beer-battered halibut are being retained. New chef Nathan Kamae will bring in weekly fresh-sheet items and new dinner specials, like seafood lasagna and field-dressed, stuffed pork tenderloin. He's also revamping the lunch menu with dishes like beef in Guinness.

Solicitor's Corner, at 6301 N. Division (at Francis), is open Sunday-Thursday from 7 am-9 pm and on Friday-Saturday from 7 am-10 pm. Call 465-9554.

Though it hasn't been around quite as long, G.W. Hunter's Restaurant Steak House has recently moved to Post Falls. After three years in Coeur d'Alene, the family eatery needed to move. "We just outgrew our Coeur d'Alene location," owner Debbie Hayes says. "The kitchen was too small and the seating was cramped."

There's much more room at their new location in the former Panhandler Pies on busy Spokane Street. The newly remodeled restaurant sports a rustic, Northwest interior.

True to its name, G.W. Hunter's serves Northwest game, like an 8-oz. elk loin or elk round steak for breakfast or dinner. Buffalo, elk and turkey burgers are offered at lunch. A deep-fried alligator appetizer is on the dinner menu as well as breaded almond duck tenderloins. On the tamer side, G.W. Hunter's features a fried chicken dinner, slow-roasted prime rib and homemade soups. New menu items include filet mignon and London broil.

G.W. Hunter's Restaurant Steakhouse, at 615 N. Spokane St. in Post Falls, Idaho, is open Monday-Tuesday from 6 am-3 pm, on Wednesday-Friday from 6 am-10 pm, and on Saturday-Sunday from 7 am-10 pm. Call (208) 777-9388.

Also in Post Falls, the Highlands Grill is under new ownership. Longtime restaurateur Duffy Taylor brings his experience at well-known North Idaho restaurants (Cedars, Templin's, Henry's and the Third Street Cantina) to the eatery at the Highlands Golf Course.

"We're doing a little bit of something for everybody at an affordable price," Taylor explains. "And now we're open all year long."

Chef Mike Wixom, who owned a restaurant in Chelan, is retaining the grill's prime rib and breakfast buffet on Saturdays and Sundays. Comfort foods, like hamburgers with all the fixings, fish and chips, soups and sandwiches are also featured.

Highlands Grill and Sports Lounge, at 5500 E. Mullan Ave. in Post Falls, is open Monday-Thursday from 10 am-8:30 pm, on Friday from 10 am-9:30 pm, on Saturday from 8 am-9:30 pm, and on Sunday from 8 am-7:30 pm. Call (208) 777-4089.

How Elegant! -- This year's Christmas Tree Elegance will put on its holiday best from Nov. 28-Dec. 5 at the Davenport Hotel. The 21st annual benefit for the Spokane Symphony begins with a lighting of ten theme-decorated trees on Friday at 5:15 pm on the mezzanine of the hotel. Family entertainment days take place in the Marie Antoinette Room on Saturday and Monday from 10 am-4:30 pm, featuring performances by dance troupes, choirs, bands and musical groups from local studios and schools.

There will be an elegant tea and vintage fashion show on Sunday at 2:30 pm and 4 pm. The three-course menu includes savories like curried chicken sandwich, scone duos (one with raspberries and white chocolate), and sweets, including coconut chocolate macaroons and lemon bars. Cost is $40 per person.

Tuesday through Friday (Dec. 2-5), brings holiday luncheons and fashion shows from 11:30 am-1:30 pm. The three-course affair features spinach salad, grilled chicken breast with sun-dried cranberry demi-glace and New York cheesecake with raspberry coulis. Cost is $40 per person.

The event culminates with a gala dinner dance on Dec. 5. Champagne will flow at 6 pm. A chicken Tuscany with port-sherry sauce entr & eacute;e and Black Forest cake highlight the dinner. Dancing to big band music and an auction accompany the dinner. Tickets are $125 per person.

The teas, luncheons and dinner are by reservation. Call 458-TREE.

Holiday Tea -- There's another opportunity to partake of a tea and luncheon at the Davenport Hotel. On Dec. 6, from 11 am-2 pm, CHER (Community Health Education and Resources) will hold its fifth annual Holiday Tea. Spinach salad, stuffed chicken breast and mousse cake will be served at the event.

The Strolling Strings from East Valley High School, the Progress Elementary School Children's Choir and a holiday fashion show will entertain guests. Proceeds from the event benefit Camp Fun in the Sun for children and teens with diabetes. Tickets are $50 per person. Call 232-8138.

Publication date: 11/27/03