Which Inlander Restaurant Week meals caught our eye

click to enlarge Smoked salmon and crab cone from Fai's Noodle House at Northern Quest Resort and Casino
Smoked salmon and crab cone from Fai's Noodle House at Northern Quest Resort and Casino

So You're an Adventurous Eater...

Inlander Restaurant Week allows the region's chefs to perhaps get a little more playful or daring than their respective restaurants' regular menus might permit, and that is music to ears of anyone with an adventurous appetite.

Sometimes, even when you think you know a dish, you'll find a twist that makes it a must-try during Restaurant Week. So it is with the Southwest chicken and waffles at the GILDED UNICORN; besides the fried chicken, you get a savory cheddar and herb waffle, some sweet peach cabbage slaw and an andouille poblano hash that has us drooling at the mere thought.

At SEASONS OF COEUR D'ALENE, the seafood stew looks like a star thanks to a mix of fish and shrimp with andouille sausage, red potatoes and a kicky basil pesto topper. FAI'S NOODLE HOUSE in Airway Heights is offering a plum ginger stir fry that promises some intense flavors, and WILD SAGE BISTRO is also tapping into fruit for some exciting dishes like their orange halibut Oscar that comes with a side of asparagus in an orange beurre blanc, with the whole dish finished by an orange-infused oil. Over at SATAY BISTRO in Coeur d'Alene, the pecan bourbon chicken boasts a bourbon peach dijon, and a side of bacon gouda Brussels sprouts just might steal the spotlight.

The Spanish paella at CHAPS should be a fresh, aromatic highlight of the week, and the new HUNT goes wild with a wild boar dish delivered with an aji verde sauce, a spicy Peruvian treat.

So You're a Vegetarian/Vegan...

For years, it was next to impossible to find reliable meat-free options in the Spokane food scene. But more and more restaurants are embracing vegan and vegetarian dishes, as well as plant-based proteins, on their menus.

Consider the relatively new South Hill spot RÜT BAR AND KITCHEN, which specializes in meatless dishes. Their Restaurant Week menu is a vegan's delight, with spotlighted plates like bean queso, a Beyond bratwurst and cauliflower buffalo wings.

NUDO RAMEN HOUSE, the local noodle haven, serves up piping hot ramen in a soy-based broth, as well as veggie dumplings. (You can certainly add meat or shrimp to your ramen if you so choose.) WILEY'S DOWNTOWN BISTRO is serving up yellow curry tofu, which you can follow up with a vegan chocolate pot de creme or a vegetarian creme brulee.

CASCADIA PUBLIC HOUSE regularly offers a plant-based menu alongside their more carnivorous dishes, and for Restaurant Week they're serving up a delicious barbecue portobello sandwich, complete with crispy onions and a crunchy jicama-apple slaw. And don't forget to check out the Kendall Yards mainstay CENTRAL FOOD, which is serving hearty options such as avocado or cauliflower tartines, glazed Brussel sprouts and a vegetable pho. You won't miss having meat at all.

So You're Bringing the Kids...

Yes, Restaurant Week is a great excuse to check out the kinds of places that you'd usually visit after leaving the kids with a sitter. But that doesn't mean that it can't be a family activity, especially if it means expanding your kids' palettes.

Starting off with the obvious: What kid doesn't like mac and cheese? MACDADDY'S PUB & GRILL would be a great choice, especially with its mac and cheese dishes that feature smoked brisket and lobster. And with their large restaurant space, you won't feel cramped at a table with little ones.

The menu at THREE PEAKS is certainly more upscale than what you'd normally see on a kids menu, but they're proudly family-friendly. Try the shrimp in harissa sauce, the sirloin with jalapeno chimichurri or their truffle burger. Another family-friendly spot is THE REF, a sports bar that specializes in fun finger foods like fried pickles, as well as a delectable monte cristo sandwich. SAWMILL GRILLE also specifies their menu as family-friendly, and their main dishes run the gamut from a Korean barbecue sandwich to red curry chicken.

And when it comes to ideal family spots, TOMATO STREET is a no-brainer. Their Restaurant Week menu offers all-star Italian dishes like minestrone and chicken Parmesan, and who doesn't want to scribble all over those paper table coverings?

So You Love Seafood ...

There's definitely something fishy about Inlander Restaurant Week, thanks to chefs taking all manner of ocean- and river-dwelling creatures and turning them into delectable, delightful dishes.

Sole is a star on a few menus this year. BARDENAY in Coeur d'Alene has an escabeche sole dish with the fish spiced up by some pickled tomatillo lemongrass. That sounds amazing, as does ITALIA TRATTORIA's pan-seared sole, the fish served with creamy Gruyere potatoes, bay shrimp and a sweet pepper bisque sauce.

click to enlarge Duck leg confit from Wild Sage Bistro
Duck leg confit from Wild Sage Bistro

Salmon is so prevalent on Northwest menus that you better do it right. THE CEDARS FLOATING RESTAURANT certainly does with their cedar plank salmon, served with tri-color garlic potatoes, vegetables and a honey-chipotle sauce. THE WANDERING TABLE gives its crispy Washington steelhead an Asian twist thanks to a ginger glaze, while the STEELHEAD BAR & GRILLE is stuffing its steelhead with creamy jalapeno artichoke dip.

BEVERLY'S in Coeur d'Alene is doing its home state proud with a potato-crusted Idaho ruby red trout entree, while ITALIAN KITCHEN is doing its cuisine's origin proud with a classic linguine and clams dish. FERRARO'S RESTAURANT dives deep into seafood with a medley of ocean creatures tossed in their house-made marinara and spaghetti.

REMEDY KITCHEN & TAVERN is going bold with a wasabi cod entree served with Parmesan risotto. And at 1898 PUBLIC HOUSE in North Spokane, the Chilean sea bass is served with some powerful flavors including fermented black garlic, green beans laced with peppered bacon and a creamy spinach artichoke dip.

So You're Out for Date Night...

Push your Valentine's Day celebration out a week — or celebrate twice! Three times! — or show the partner in your life some extra love "just 'cause" by treating them to a romantic meal for two during Restaurant Week. Not only is it a bargain of a date night, you and your sweetie can share and sample six different dishes each time you dine. Here are a few of the many great date night options that caught our eye.

At CURRENT KITCHEN in Post Falls, enjoy views of the Spokane River while sharing a decadent meal of duck spring rolls, bone-in bacon with a mac and cheese casserole and, for dessert, chocolate donuts and chai ice cream.

Also in Post Falls, one of the ultimate date nights spots no matter the time of year or occasion, traditional French eatery FLEUR DE SEL is the perfect place to impress, with steak tartare, pork cheeks à la bourguignonne and the decadent chicken truffle, a grilled breast over mushroom duxelle ravioli and a truffle cream sauce.

Date night gets casual with the communal Latin fare offered at DE LEON'S TACO & BAR, serving the aptly named "sharable guacamole" as a starter, with entrees consisting of a carne asada plate, mahi-mahi taco plate or fajitas — the inclusion of "plate" to us indicates the ultimate meal-sharing experience.

Interact with your date, and your food, too, at THE MELTING POT, which offers a $33-per-person three-course meal that includes fondue starters and a salad course before you and your date cook your own entrees: meat lover's, coastal or vegetarian fondue.

So You Have a Big Group...

One of the best aspects of Inlander Restaurant Week is the added motivation to get together with friends and try out a new spot or revisit an old fave. It's become an annual tradition for many, and that means you need to plan accordingly if you have a big group.

The first step, of course, is making a reservation if at all possible. Almost any participating restaurant can accommodate your big party with enough notice. But you might also want to consider the spots that boast big spaces and large or communal tables.

One such spot is IRON GOAT BREWERY, which has a nice mix of smaller tables, bar seats and long tables where you can probably cram in up to 10 people. With a menu boasting everything from a vegan curry to comfort-food staple meatloaf, expect a crowd. THAI BAMBOO, with locations in Coeur d'Alene, Spokane Valley and Spokane, knows how to turn over big parties (and knock out a killer fried banana dessert).

CHINOOK STEAK, PASTA & SPIRITS at the Coeur d'Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho, can take a reservation for your large group, but you might want to leave the kids behind in case you want to get a little gaming in while sipping one of their private label wines. You don't need a reservation at the CENTENNIAL RESTAURANT inside Spokane's Centennial Hotel — they're used to large groups of travelers stopping by. With pork street tacos on their menu for Restaurant Week, your crew might have to fight for the salsa, but you won't have to fight over a seat. The same goes at SHAWN O'DONNELL'S, one of the newest restaurants in Spokane. Take the chance to visit their stunning historic home, the former site of Milford's Fish House, and dig into some fine Irish fare.

click to enlarge Pot de Creme from MAX at Mirabeau
Pot de Creme from MAX at Mirabeau

So You Love Seafood ...

There's definitely something fishy about Inlander Restaurant Week, thanks to chefs taking all manner of ocean- and river-dwelling creatures and turning them into delectable, delightful dishes.

Sole is a star on a few menus this year. BARDENAY in Coeur d'Alene has an escabeche sole dish with the fish spiced up by some pickled tomatillo lemongrass. That sounds amazing, as does ITALIA TRATTORIA's pan-seared sole, the fish served with creamy Gruyere potatoes, bay shrimp and a sweet pepper bisque sauce.

Salmon is so prevalent on Northwest menus that you better do it right. THE CEDARS FLOATING RESTAURANT certainly does with their cedar plank salmon, served with tri-color garlic potatoes, vegetables and a honey-chipotle sauce. THE WANDERING TABLE gives its crispy Washington steelhead an Asian twist thanks to a ginger glaze, while the STEELHEAD BAR & GRILLE is stuffing its steelhead with creamy jalapeno artichoke dip.

BEVERLY'S in Coeur d'Alene is doing its home state proud with a potato-crusted Idaho ruby red trout entree, while ITALIAN KITCHEN is doing its cuisine's origin proud with a classic linguine and clams dish. FERRARO'S RESTAURANT dives deep into seafood with a medley of ocean creatures tossed in their house-made marinara and spaghetti.

REMEDY KITCHEN & TAVERN is going bold with a wasabi cod entree served with Parmesan risotto. And at 1898 PUBLIC HOUSE in North Spokane, the Chilean sea bass is served with some powerful flavors including fermented black garlic, green beans laced with peppered bacon and a creamy spinach artichoke dip.

So You're Out for Date Night...

Push your Valentine's Day celebration out a week — or celebrate twice! Three times! — or show the partner in your life some extra love "just 'cause" by treating them to a romantic meal for two during Restaurant Week. Not only is it a bargain of a date night, you and your sweetie can share and sample six different dishes each time you dine. Here are a few of the many great date night options that caught our eye.

At CURRENT KITCHEN in Post Falls, enjoy views of the Spokane River while sharing a decadent meal of duck spring rolls, bone-in bacon with a mac and cheese casserole and, for dessert, chocolate donuts and chai ice cream.

Also in Post Falls, one of the ultimate date nights spots no matter the time of year or occasion, traditional French eatery FLEUR DE SEL is the perfect place to impress, with steak tartare, pork cheeks à la bourguignonne and the decadent chicken truffle, a grilled breast over mushroom duxelle ravioli and a truffle cream sauce.

Date night gets casual with the communal Latin fare offered at DE LEON'S TACO & BAR, serving the aptly named "sharable guacamole" as a starter, with entrees consisting of a carne asada plate, mahi-mahi taco plate or fajitas — the inclusion of "plate" to us indicates the ultimate meal-sharing experience.

Interact with your date, and your food, too, at THE MELTING POT, which offers a $33-per-person three-course meal that includes fondue starters and a salad course before you and your date cook your own entrees: meat lover's, coastal or vegetarian fondue.

So You Have a Big Group...

One of the best aspects of Inlander Restaurant Week is the added motivation to get together with friends and try out a new spot or revisit an old fave. It's become an annual tradition for many, and that means you need to plan accordingly if you have a big group.

The first step, of course, is making a reservation if at all possible. Almost any participating restaurant can accommodate your big party with enough notice. But you might also want to consider the spots that boast big spaces and large or communal tables.

One such spot is IRON GOAT BREWERY, which has a nice mix of smaller tables, bar seats and long tables where you can probably cram in up to 10 people. With a menu boasting everything from a vegan curry to comfort-food staple meatloaf, expect a crowd. THAI BAMBOO, with locations in Coeur d'Alene, Spokane Valley and Spokane, knows how to turn over big parties (and knock out a killer fried banana dessert).

CHINOOK STEAK, PASTA & SPIRITS at the Coeur d'Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho, can take a reservation for your large group, but you might want to leave the kids behind in case you want to get a little gaming in while sipping one of their private label wines. You don't need a reservation at the CENTENNIAL RESTAURANT inside Spokane's Centennial Hotel — they're used to large groups of travelers stopping by. With pork street tacos on their menu for Restaurant Week, your crew might have to fight for the salsa, but you won't have to fight over a seat. The same goes at SHAWN O'DONNELL'S, one of the newest restaurants in Spokane. Take the chance to visit their stunning historic home, the former site of Milford's Fish House, and dig into some fine Irish fare.

So You Have a Sweet Tooth...

The struggle is real: After stuffing yourself full of appetizers, drinks and entrees, the waiter asks if the table wants to see the dessert menu. You feel a tinge of regret or guilt. But during Inlander Restaurant Week, dessert is (often) included! And since many first- and second-course portions are sized just right, you won't have to roll yourself out the door. Whether you love chocolatey or fruity treats or consider yourself a cheesecake aficionado, sweet choices abound.

At SCRATCH RESTAURANT AND RAIN LOUNGE, dessert choices center around fruit, like the poached pear with pinot, featuring vanilla ice cream, nuts and granola. Other choices are huckleberry ice cream or a mixed berry cobbler.

Chocolate lovers can all get behind a rich and flourless (i.e., gluten-free) chocolate torte, featured on the menu at SOUTH HILL GRILL, along with similar versions at SPENCER'S FOR STEAKS AND CHOPS and STEAM PLANT KITCHEN + BREWERY. There's even a vegan version at THE BLUEBIRD in Coeur d'Alene. O'DOHERTY'S IRISH GRILLE serves its dark chocolate torte atop a raspberry compote.

Fans of cheesecake, rejoice. This dessert in all its variations abounds on Restaurant Week menus, including the following flavors: huckleberry (too many to list), coconut (THAI BAMBOO), strawberry (SAFARI ROOM), blood orange (TABLE 13), peanut butter (EUROPA), amaretto (THREE PEAKS), key lime (CENTRAL FOOD), milk and cookies (CHAPS). Also take note of the bananas foster version at MAX AT MIRABEAU, featuring a caramelized banana-spiced rum and nutmeg whip. REPUBLIC PI'S is espresso-flavored, while you'll find a brulee caramel cheesecake at TAMARACK PUBLIC HOUSE. Meanwhile, THE REF SPORTS BAR is deep-frying theirs. Getting creative with things, GILDED UNICORN is serving vegan cheesecake "bites," while the nearby HERITAGE BAR & KITCHEN is doing cheesecake "skewers." Perhaps the most unique flavor is REMEDY'S Fruity Pebbles cheesecake. Truly, there's a cheesecake for everyone.

So You're Eating Gluten-free...

Whether you've got a serious dietary restriction or you're avoiding refined carbs because you've gone keto, several restaurants are offering entire menus with gluten-free choices — including the totally gluten-free COLE'S BAKERY & CAFE in North Spokane — while even more have one or two dishes that are either gluten-free or can be altered to meet those needs.

At TABLE 13 inside the Davenport Grand, nearly every dish is gluten-free, including the blueberry duck breast, served with a blueberry gastrique, fingerling potatoes and local vegetables. Or try the pan-seared scallops with lemon-tarragon risotto, brown butter and local veggies.

Up north, DOWNRIVER GRILL is serving up a crispy pork belly with a citrus maple glaze, house kimchi, and an apple relish, as well as a chocolate almond pot de crème, a rich chocolate custard dessert that's topped with sea salt. Meanwhile, NORTH HILL ON GARLAND has plenty of gluten-free options, including steamer clams and a berry, feta and honey flatbread that can be made gluten-free, layered with seasonal fruit, feta cheese, caramelized Walla Walla onions and basil.

Spokane Valley isn't missing out on gluten-friendly options either. AMBROSIA BISTRO & WINE BAR has tasty mains including a braised pork shank served with carrot confit and rosemary potatoes, as well as coq a vin, red-wine braised chicken thigh with lardons, crimini mushrooms, white beans and roasted garlic.

In Coeur d'Alene, BEVERLY'S is packing a gourmet punch with choices including a smoked American wagyu beef tartare, served with black garlic ice cream, cured egg yolk, and a gluten-free alternative to brioche toast, as well as a crispy Maple Leaf Farms duck leg confit, served with a black lentil ragout, roasted root vegetables, and a medjool date jus. Over at DOCKSIDE there's a delicious steak tournedos being served with a bacon bearnaise sauce, a fluffy, buttered Idaho potato, and asparagus, or diners can choose the herb roasted garlic shrimp with rice and veggies.

Those with a sweet tooth won't have a hard time, either, with tons of other gluten-free desserts, from the fried Thai bananas at KUNI'S THAI CUISINE to the cinnamon and honey gelato at FLAME & CORK WOOD FIRED PIZZA.

Bloomsday 2020 @ Spokane

Through Sept. 27
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