Spokane Style

by Lauren McAllister & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's about 4,000 miles from Spokane to Hawaii, but you can experience a bit of island hospitality right here in the Inland Northwest at Okan & eacute;, perched at the top of the South Hill. You'll have to look close because there's no sign out front, but once you find the door, just beyond the Great Clips and Hollywood Video near Albertsons, you'll discover a chic little restaurant with modern Asian-inspired minimalist d & eacute;cor. The walls are adorned with eye-catching artwork created by inking real fish and octopi and pressing them onto delicate rice paper. (Very cool art, and they're for sale if you want to take one home.) A sunny citron green lights up one wall of the restaurant, while other walls are dramatically dark. Seating is available at the sushi bar or in a small seating area.

We happened in on a Friday evening, and were shown immediately to a nice, quiet booth. We started off with a bang. On our server's suggestion, we ordered the rock shrimp "smitty" ($6) and were rewarded with a big mound of tempura-fried rock shrimp with a tangy-sweet drizzle of Okan & eacute; sauce. Delish. Other starter options include a gyoza mix ($8), which includes Asian pork dumplings, and a tempura mix ($8) of vegetables and shrimp.

Next up were salads. At Okan & eacute;, these are nearly all meaty affairs -- there's a grilled chicken Caesar ($9), an Island Chef salad with kalua pork and grilled ginger chicken ($11). We chose to split the Thai noodle salad with ginger chicken ($9). The chicken was tender and moist, and the udon noodles were chewy and delicious. But this salad packs some unexpected heat. And the "assortment of seasonal vegetables" turned out to be a handful of the ubiquitous baby greens.

Of course, we had to sample one of the many sushi choices on the menu. At Okan & eacute;, sushi items containing raw or undercooked fish are marked with an asterisk, making this an ideal place to start exploring sushi, even if raw fish isn't to your liking. I almost talked my companion into trying the Northwest roll, because it sounds so unusual -- salmon, smoked salmon, cream cheese and granny smith apple, all with a huckleberry teriyaki sauce. That's truly fusion cuisine, and according to our server, it's the most popular sushi order. But he said the raw roll was even better, with its special, flavorful hamachi ($12), so we decided to give it a try. Also known as yellowtail or amberjack, hamachi is a little fattier and is very popular in Japan and Hawaii. The seven slices were beautifully presented, and the flavor of the fish was like a whiff of fresh salty sea air.

I often have trouble making up my mind when choosing an entr & eacute;e, but at Okan & eacute; I knew immediately I had to have the Hawaiian ($12) -- slow roasted, pulled kalua pork and bok choy. The pork was sensational -- tender, moist and lightly sweet. I wasn't quite prepared for the enormous portion of lomi lomi salmon and ahi poke on the bed of greens, even though our server had mentioned the raw fish accompaniment to the pork. The light marinade, especially on the ahi, was terrific.

My companion went for the grilled ahi tuna (market price). The pineapple glaze bordered on being too sweet, but the tuna was nicely grilled, and the accompanying vegetables added color and texture to the plate. Unfortunately, the garlic wasabi mashed potatoes were ailing. The potatoes had a strange runny texture with hardly any discernible wasabi or garlic. Stick with the white rice instead.

Next time I visit, I would love to sample Papa's pork adobo ($10), which features a blend of Hispanic and Pacific-Asian flavors. The Kal-Bi steak ($16), marinated in a Korean sauce and sliced thin, also sounds like a good bet. The menu also includes a couple of curries ($11) with your choice of meat, chicken or shrimp.

For dessert, we split an order of coconut sorbet with a macadamia nut cookie. Although the sorbet had a nice flavor, its dry texture perhaps resulted from being too long in the freezer. The accompanying macadamia nut cookie had long ago lost its crunch.

Although there were a few rough spots in our dinner, several items were outstanding. Okan & eacute;'s menu begs for further exploration. Portions are generous and prices are quite reasonable. So next time you are in need of a little aloha spirit, head south.

Okan & eacute; is at 2910 E. 57th Ave., near Albertsons. Open Mon-Thu, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm; Sun, 4-8 pm. Call 448-1779.