by Susan Hamilton

My goal was to find a neighborhood spot where I could have my own restaurant," says chef and owner Jonathan Sweatt. "I want to connect with my customers and get to know them well."

Some of us may know Sweatt from his creative fare at the Italian Kitchen and Northern Lights. Now he's established an eclectic bistro right in his own neighborhood. And his entire family is involved in the endeavor. His brother, Aaron, is the general manager; his mom and step-dad, Vicki and Hal Dixon, are also owners and help with d & eacute;cor and wine selection; and his niece's artwork graces some of the walls.

The interior, designed by the talented John Rovtar, has an upscale, comfortable feel, with rich woods blending with persimmon, forest and sand colors. The main dining room is in view of the display kitchen, while the bar and private dining room flank either side.

Just opened this week, Downriver Grill promises to fill the void of neighborhood bistros on the northwest side. And if what I tasted prior to opening is any indication, this restaurant (just three blocks from Downriver Golf Course) will be hopping.

The Santa Fe quesadilla starter showcases grilled chicken, caramelized onions, cheddar and mozzarella cheese. It's a taste sensation with a crunchy, chewy, gooey south-of-the-border flair, especially with the kickin' house salsa. The gorgonzola fries sound like an interesting appetizer, bathed in a rich and creamy gorgonzola sauce.

Salads at Downriver Grill include chicken taco, Cobb, Caesar, Tuscan pasta and spinach. The spinach salad I sampled was slightly warmed and had a subtle bacon flavor, imparted both by the bacon crumbles and the vinaigrette. Sandwiches range from an Italian chicken, pan-seared and topped with Sonnenberg's sausage and house-made marinara, to the tasty grilled tuna I sampled. The yellow-fin tuna is marinated in fresh ginger and citrus, enhanced by wasabi cucumber dressing and mango salsa. Delish!

Sweatt knows how to cook pasta dishes right. His sausage puttanesca is alive with robust, spicy flavors. The Tuscan chicken linguine sounds intriguing, with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese.

Entrees at Downriver Grill showcase salmon, steak, tofu, tuna and chicken. The pork osso buco I tasted was incredibly tender and the accompanying potatoes au gratin rich and satisfying. Desserts include homemade tiramisu, berries with filo dough and chocolate pot de cr & egrave;me.

Downriver features Northwest wines and microbrews -- from Trey Marie and Townshend to Alesian and Northern Lights. Even if you don't live in the neighborhood, it's worth going out of your way to Downriver Grill. They're kid-friendly.

Downriver Grill, at 3315 W. Northwest Blvd., is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11 am-9 pm. Call 323-1600.

Mediterranean Expansion -- Another grill, this one in Post Falls, has built itself quite a following after six years in the area. In fact, it's become so popular that it can be difficult to get a seat in the intimate White House Grill.

"We needed a bigger place, and when this building became available, we grabbed it," says owner Raci Erdem.

Erdem's new restaurant, just one block up the street, has seating for 120 guests in three separate dining rooms with open arches for viewing the exhibition kitchen and wine bar. The interior of the newly-opened restaurant is graced with Greek columns, a water fountain and photos of the Mediterranean.

The tasty menu at White House Grill will remain, showcasing the cuisine of Greece, Turkey and Italy. All the dishes at this restaurant are commendable -- yes, I'm partial to the ample amounts of garlic Erdem uses -- but here are some of my favorites. The Turkish "cigar" appetizers are a savory blend of feta cheese and fresh spinach, rolled into filo "cigars" and deep-fried. The Greek salad has a generous sprinkling of feta cheese and tangy house dressing. It's heavenly with a side of hummus and pita bread.

Fresh sheet offerings change daily. On a recent visit, I had the spring bowl -- a flavorful blend of rice, chicken, veggies, feta cheese, spices and herbs. Menu entrees include shish kebab with your choice of beef, curry chicken or lamb; linguini solo mio with saut & eacute;ed baby clams, fresh garlic and red onions, tossed with linguini and finished with a white cream sauce; and marinated Mediterranean chicken.

By all means, try the homemade baklava. For me, it brought back memories of a wonderful little restaurant on the isle of Corfu.

The White House Grill, 712 N. Spokane St., Post Falls, Idaho, is open Monday-Saturday from 11 am-10 pm, and on Friday and Saturday until 11 pm. Call (208) 777-9672.

Asian and American Fare -- Asian food is popular with many in the Inland Northwest. Proving this point, Top of China Buffet has recently opened its fourth restaurant in the Inland Northwest. This one, however, has a different name and is intended to be more of a sit-down restaurant than the buffets on the North Side and in downtown and Pullman.

True to its name, Open Sky sports an interior in soft blues, making you feel like you're dining in the upper atmosphere. The accents of green and wine lend an earthly tone to the restaurant and lounge.

The broad menu features Chinese, Japanese and American cuisine. Sushi rolls, ginger beef, almond chicken, moo-shu pork and Szechwan shrimp are a few of the Asian offerings. Twenty different luncheon specials -- from egg flower soup to fried prawns -- are featured. Rib steak, tofu dishes and salads are also menu items.

Open Sky, at 14415 E. Sprague (just east of Evergreen), is open Monday-Saturday from 11 am-2 am and on Sunday from noon-2 am. Call 922-5566.

More Mexican Comestibles -- The Inland Northwest may not have quite as many Mexican as Asian restaurants, but a chain based in the Southwest is trying to tip that balance. Los Sanchez opened a restaurant in Coeur d'Alene just over a month ago.

The Mexican eatery features authentic Sonora-style food in a fast-casual environment. Los Sanchez offers breakfast items from a huevos rancheros platter to a chorizo-and-eggs burrito. Lunch and dinner menu items include steak fajitas and shrimp ranchero platters, Mr. Giant and chimichanga burritos, quesadillas, nachos, tacos, enchiladas and tostadas. Los Sanchez, featuring a salsa bar and a kids' menu, prides itself on listening to its customers.

Los Sanchez, at 2615 N. Fourth St. in Coeur d'Alene, is open daily from 7 am-10 pm. Call (208) 665-2400.

Wine Events -- Three wine events this month will have wine aficionados busy. This Friday's Grape & amp; Grain tasting (June 6 at 6 pm) features some of the finest Northwest wineries and breweries. The 11th annual event at the Masonic Temple offers samples from the likes of Maryhill Winery and Saviah Cellars, as well as eight of Spokane's own wineries. If you missed the debut of Barrister Winery at the recent Spring Barrel Tasting, they'll be at Grape & amp; Grain. Six Northwest breweries will present their microbrews at the benefit. Foods from Crossroads Catering will complement the wines and brews. Tickets are $30 each and are available at Vino and Huckleberry's. Call 328-5855.

Modeled after the well-known Taste Washington event held each spring in Seattle, Spokane will have its own T.W. on June 22 at 5 pm. The second annual event features 60 wineries and 20 restaurants -- the best of Walla Walla and Spokane. From Chateau Ste. Michelle to Mountain Dome and Whitehouse-Crawford to Solstice, the wine and food hold much promise. Held at the Davenport, this year's festival will benefit the Davenport Arts District and WSU's Viticultural Program. Tickets are $75 each. Call 624-1393.

On Wednesday, June 25, Italian cuisine and wine will be featured at Vino's wine dinner at the Italian Kitchen. The main course is stuffed guinea hen with goat cheese truffles on a bed of orzo with morels and fresh peas, complemented by a Santa Anastasia Rosso Nero d'Avola. Tickets are $70 per person for the 6:30 pm. dinner. Call 838-1229.

Publication date: 06/05/03

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