Adventure in Eating

by LAUREN McALLISTER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & K & lt;/span & udos to Walt Worthy and company for adding a tall building to the Spokane skyline, something that hadn't been done for -- yikes! -- 25 years. And while the Davenport Tower may not be particularly distinguished-looking from the outside, inside it was airy and light-filled on a recent late-spring evening. The faux-stone walls and Palladian windows seem designed to evoke a sense of utilitarian formality -- giving the building the feel of a refurbished old post office or federal building. Against that somber backdrop, the safari theme offers an understated, somewhat whimsical counterpoint. Leopard print upholstery and zebra-striped pendant lights deck the dining area, while a border of watercolored African animals marches along the ornate crown molding.

While the restaurant's name and d & eacute;cor hint at the exotic, the menu sticks close to familiar flavors, although sometimes in unique pairings. Appetizers include a shrimp cocktail ($10) and steamed clams ($9). We started with a crispy flatbread, roasted in the Safari Room's brick oven, topped with arugula, thinly sliced pears, a sprinkling of blue cheese and drizzled with honey ($8). While this was not a particularly complex appetizer, it was a unique and very successful combination of flavors. The peppery arugula played well against the mild blue cheese, with the honey and pears adding a nice note of sweetness. And their flatbread is more like a savory cracker than the focaccia-type bread you might expect. Very tasty.

We chose the spinach salad with bacon, onions, oranges and strawberries in a balsamic vinaigrette. Other possibilities included a wedge salad with nuts and craisins. The spinach salad was a colorful delight. The light dressing was enhanced with the sweet fruit, with the shaved red onion adding a spicy finish. And even though we ordered the small portion ($6) to share, our server had it split onto two plates.

The entr & eacute;e selection is a study in variety, no doubt aimed at pleasing travelers staying at the hotel. First off, there's a hickory smoked barbecue section, with a choice of baby back ribs or pulled pork, accompanied by potato salad and cole slaw ($14). Since we weren't in the mood for the full-on barbecue experience but did want to test out the house specialty, we opted for the appetizer ribs ($6) just to see what the joint was cookin' up. Three pork ribs, rubbed with a spicy mix, were served with a side of barbecue sauce. They were tender and moist, but not particularly remarkable. The sauce was quite good. I'm not sure why the barbecue is on the menu, other than to honor the Worthys' Southern roots, but if you love barbecue, the Safari Room does claim one of the few smokers in our region.

Other options for entr & eacute;es include a cheeseburger ($9), a pork chop with Italian sausage stuffing ($18) and in a nod to the Northwest, fresh wild salmon (priced daily). Chef Tim Ferguson's menu has something for every price point.

I opted for the halibut ($20), roasted and served with fresh green beans, fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes. Though the halibut had a nice crisp and flavorful crust, and I liked the olive tapenade on top, it was a bit undercooked. The outstanding, vibrantly colored vegetables were the stars of the plate, however. Nothing can beat crisp tender fresh beans, the bursting of a warmed sweet cherry tomato or the mild creamy sweetness of tiny potatoes.

My companion chose one of the specials our server raved about. Here, a pesto of arugula was tossed with penne pasta, shrimp and artichoke hearts ($14). This was a nice, light entr & eacute;e, even more flavorful after adding just a sprinkle of salt. There were plenty of shrimp, and we were surprised at the compatibility of the artichokes and arugula. All in all a nice dish.

Desserts are a lot of fun at the Safari Room. First off, they're only $2. Already, for the price of one dessert at most restaurants you can try three or four "miniature servings." On the night we visited there were seven choices: bread pudding, lemon cream, German chocolate cake, peanut butter pie, vanilla flan, carrot cake and Nanaimo bar. The German chocolate cake was a darker chocolate than usual, but the frosting is really what it's all about, and here it was as good as ever, with lots of nuts and coconut. The carrot cake suffered perhaps from sitting uncovered for too long -- it was dried out and plain. The peanut butter pie was rich and thick, with a texture not far from peanut butter fudge. The chocolate cookie crust was yummy, but I can't imagine anyone eating more than the $2 portion. Our favorite was the simple flan with an elaborate caramelized sugar decoration. Creamy and cool, it was the perfect ending to our enjoyable meal.

The service was both knowledgeable and gracious -- exactly what you'd expect at the Davenport. The Safari Room offers pleasant and relaxing dining, with food that is at once familiar and fresh.