If in summer our thoughts turn to the water, then autumn is the season when we return to the earth. The very colors of the trees, with their crimsons, golds and oranges, reflect this change. Autumn is a burst of color. Grapes in dusky hues of purple and light green with their frosty skins and lush scent; juicy, fragrant apples and pears of myriad shades of crimson, gold and green; orange, emerald and golden squash show their faces for a season.
As the temperature drops, our sense of taste and smell are heightened. The aroma of cinnamon and apples, robust stews, hearty soups and fresh baked bread is concentrated indoors. All these pleasing smells remind us of home, Grandma's kitchen and gathering around the hearth. Our appetites are revitalized.
How is this change reflected in our area's restaurants? The chilly weather and shorter days of autumn give chefs a chance to infuse their menus with seasonal inspiration. Most of them make use of the cornucopia of fall produce. Some favor bolder menu items. While most of the region's better restaurants change their menus with the season, I asked five local chefs how they tailor their menus to the fall season.
High atop the Coeur d'Alene Resort, Beverly's overlooks the splendid fall colors as they ring the lake and are reflected there. An award-winning restaurant, Beverly's features Northwest specialties with exciting presentations.
"For autumn, I'm focusing on comfort food that represents the area," says Executive Chef Rod Jessick. "I remember my Mom making dinners that were roasted all day. They filled the house with their rich scent.
"This time of year, I like to create dishes that are bolder and a bit heavier. It's the type of food that you want more of," he adds.
Jessick's fall menu features a veal pot roast that's home-style yet upscale, rich and flavorful. A savory, roasted buffalo meatloaf with red wine gravy is also a new dish.
Mushrooms are delicacies that appear in the fall. Morels, porcini, shiitakes and chanterelles all bring a distinct, woodsy flavor to autumn dishes. Jessick is using chanterelles to "autumnize" the chicken potpie that was a favorite with customers this spring and summer. Real chicken broth and gravy (highlighted with wine), fresh vegetables and a good piecrust make this dish popular.
What would autumn be without wild game? Beverly's gets some of its game for fall dishes from local, approved sources. Venison and elk racks will be offered at Beverly's. Marinated in wine with shallots and rosemary, they will be grilled, broiled or roasted to perfection. Served with sweet potato puree, red wine sauce and pomegranate glaze.
But changing with the seasons doesn't just end with the entr & eacute;e, as people's heartier appetities extend to the post meal topper.
"I want to bring a feeling of Northwest hominess to our desserts," says Jessick, who settled on offering huckleberry apple pie and a pear franzipan tart, made with Bartlett pears that are in season now.
Located at Lincoln Heights in the former Caf & eacute; Roma, Caf & eacute; 5-Ten offers a unique atmosphere for fine dining. "We are a destination restaurant that specializes in everything fresh and made on-site," says Owner/Chef Michael Waliser.
Every dish carries Waliser's unique signature. He prepares items on a daily basis with an emphasis on creativity and technique. "In the fall, I have the opportunity to use braised items and heavier food than I would in the spring and summer."
Caf & eacute; 5-Ten offers many specials featuring fall items. "I'm not using anything that's out of season, like salmon or summer berries, right now," states Waliser. "We'll feature many varieties of squash, mushrooms, apples, huckleberries, pumpkin, duck, game birds and shellfish."
Butternut squash and sage soup will appear this fall at Caf & eacute; 5-Ten. Waliser is also featuring a double pork loin chop with roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Or maybe a Panchetta Ranch quail with honey apple cider glaze, butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms would be more to your liking. Topping off the autumn specials is pumpkin creme Brulee with pecan brittle and bourbon cream.
Newly remodeled in vibrant colors of red, eggplant and deep mustard with an art deco motif, Caf & eacute; Americana has a warm, inviting ambiance.
Chef Patrick Fechser is showcasing fall specials that will become part of Caf & eacute; Americana's winter menu. He will draw upon zesty, international flavors as well as American comfort food. Fechser is turning up the heat with blackened Chilean sea bass with mango salsa as well as Thai noodles with Gulf prawns and spicy peanut sauce.
"I like to cook spicier food and exotic cuisine," Fechser explains. A south-of-the-border flavor is present in the calamari stuffed with mozzarella and pepperoncini with chipolte cream sauce and seared chicken jalapeno wrap with black bean salsa that will be featured as specials this fall.
Caf & eacute; Americana hasn't forgotten its roots. "We're offering traditional, comfort foods to warm and soothe customers on chilly days," says owner Pat Kroetch. Hot beef and turkey sandwiches on homemade bread as well as beef stroganoff are available at lunch. For dinner you can try bacon wrapped filet of pork with apple brandy sauce or New York steak with green peppercorn demi glace.
Soups really come into their own when the temperature drops. Nothing seems to warm us like a bowl of steaming, fragrant, homemade soup. Fechser prepares his versions of homemade autumn soups -- tomato basil, chicken potato and clam chowder to name a few -- for customers to savor.
Warm salads also appear in autumn, with warm or hot ingredients introduced over a crisp, fresh salad texture. "We're spotlighting Caesar salads with warm blackened salmon, sizzled calamari or chicken breast as well as saut & eacute;ed seafood salad," Kroetch points out.
Mizuna is an intimate restaurant in an inviting brick and plant-festooned building on North Howard. The open, airy dining room has a view of a quaint downtown street or the display kitchen where chef Tonia Buckmiller puts on her culinary show.
Featured in Bon Appetit magazine, Mizuna is known as a sophisticated place for skillfully presented, international vegetarian cuisine. "I enjoy changing our menu fairly often," says Buckmiller. "I like to work with seasonal produce and bring in new items every month."
It's important to her to showcase fresh produce. "I enjoy working with the growers and producers in our community," she explains. This autumn, Buckmiller will be featuring local cheese from Quillisascut Cheese Co. in Rice, Wash., shiitake mushrooms from Mt. Spokane Mushrooms and Small Planet Tofu.
Buckmiller is concentrating on the hearty flavors of autumn with food that's more filling. "I'll be using more cheese, potatoes, root vegetables and pasta now," she says.
What will star in Mizuna's fall menu? Pumpkin polenta with cinnamon chipolte sauce and goat cheese cilantro pesto. An earthy mushroom dish of cremini mushrooms with roasted root veggies and apples topped with a cranberry port sauce. Also taking center stage at Mizuna will be a forest mushroom risotto with sage, shallots, pears and smoked goat cheese.
"Our customers are adventurous and want to have new dishes to keep their dining experience interesting," explains Buckmiller.
Did I mention dessert? Buckmiller is dreaming up concoctions with pears, apples, cranberries, cinnamon and ginger.
So where does the chef get her ideas? "I'm inspired by what I see, especially in magazines, cooking shows and cookbooks," Buckmiller states. "I read cookbooks like other people go to the movies."
What better spot to drink in the amber glow of autumn than over Lake Pend Oreille? Blessed with some great restaurants, Sandpoint is home to Swan's Landing, where you can warm yourself by the huge stone fireplace or savor the sunset from your table.
An upscale yet informal restaurant, Swan's Landing specializes in a diverse selection of Northwest cuisine. Many of the menu items are homemade, like their pastas, breads and desserts.
Executive Chef Brad Vogler will be changing the restaurant's menu for fall. "It's fun to do something different. I'm excited when a new menu comes out every six months," he says.
From the bountiful fruits of summer and variety of local, organic produce, Vogler will turn to heartier meals. "I'm scaling back on fish and trying out specials of game, like duck, pheasant and elk," he explains.
Swan's Landing's mixed grill special is popular with customers. This fall Vogler will offer it with beef, pork, game or fish paired with tasty sauces. "The sampler is exciting because people get to try something new," he says.
Vogler likes to patronize local distributors. In particular, he favors Kootenai Ciders' delicious apple cider and Woods Meat's bacon. Their pheasant is smoked in-house to make the restaurant's smoked pheasant pasta dish.
What could be more deliciously comforting than freshly made French onion soup? Caramelized onions, wine-laced broth topped with crusty bread and melted cheese. It's the epitome of autumn, and it will be served fresh daily.
"I enjoy my cooking more in the fall and winter. I can spend more time on every dish," reveals Vogler. "It's relaxed."