by Lauren McAllister

There's a new diva in the lineup for the Davenport District. CenterStage has occupied the second floor of the old Odd Fellows Hall with Spokane's only permanent dinner theater. But the big kitchen on the third floor of this funky old building can handle more than the 140 or so dinners demanded for a sold-out show, so a restaurant was carved out of the spacious third floor. After climbing up a rather plain old staircase -- an elevator is also available -- the beautiful dining room is a bit of a surprise. Huge windows march down the far wall, with views of the steeples of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral to the northwest. Oak woodwork complements the soft butter-hued walls, and crisp white tablecloths and little vases of fresh flowers enliven the tables. As the evening progressed, the room was filled with a beautiful golden light from the setting sun.

Normally, when my trusty companion and I do a restaurant review, we don't tell anyone we're coming. We want to get the Everyman experience. No special treatment for us! But through a historic alignment of the stars, consisting of 1) a reservations indiscretion which involved giving our names, 2) our failure to wear convincing disguises, and 3) the fact that we happened to be the absolutely only diners at 6:30 on the night we visited, the shrewd staff at UpStage figured out who we were.

Our blown cover did afford us a tour of the facilities by Leslie Grove, one of the founders of the CenterStage complex. Grove showed us around the building, including a peek into the theater, where a lively, near-capacity crowd was finishing dinner in anticipation of the current show, "Scrambled McManus." The enthusiasm of Grove; her husband Tim Behrens, who is the star of the McManus show; and manager Cameron Lewis was delightful.

Patrons at the dinner theater select from three or so entree options cooked up by the venue's chef, Kile Tansy. Tansy has a bit of a cult following in town, after stints at The Elk, Luna, Fugazzi and most recently at Quinn's.

At UpStage Supper Club, the menu will probably change every three months or so; this was the first weekend with a brand-new menu. Our server, who explained that she had worked with Tansy at Quinn's and declared everything he made was incredible, hadn't tasted many of the items on the new menu. Among the starters, she did point out the Thai Lime Beef Bites ($6) as a favorite. Scallops Mornay ($10) was a favorite at Quinn's, she said, and we decided to give that a try, along with the UpStage salad sampler ($6). The Scallops Mornay was a generous portion of meaty scallops in a sauce and under a blanket of melted cheese. Some slim slices of leek added just a touch of flavor to the delightful scallops. The sauce was delicious, though more of a seafood broth than a mornay sauce. No matter -- it tasted great soaked up in the thin French bread toasts that accompanied the scallops.

The salad sampler was a huge plate full of salads, a la your church potluck. There was a wonderful black bean salad, with bits of chicken and a hearty taste of cumin and cilantro; a fresh fruit salad with sliced apples, pineapple and melons; and a marinated vegetable salad with broccoli, crisp green pea pods, carrots and red peppers. With the complementary basket of light, finely textured house breads -- a French bread and a sun-dried tomato bread -- these appetizers were truly filling enough to obviate the need for dinner.

But because it is our job to bravely go beyond such amateurish sensations as "satisfied" and "full" to "professionally stuffed like a taxidermied jackalope," we pressed on. For a brief moment, we even considered ordering the cleverly named Jazzed Quartet ($24). This meat bonanza "has its place on the menu" our server said a bit dubiously. It includes beef medallions, lamb chops, sausages, and skewered prawns -- each in its own sauce -- with roasted new potatoes and vegetables.

The Wine Merchant's steak of pan-seared culotte medallions ($19) was also a contender. But in the end, we couldn't stay away from the fish and seafood. I selected the Idaho trout in huckleberry sauce ($14). The trout was pan-fried crisp, with just the right amount of salt and pepper. I have a feeling I might be able to do something similar to this at home, if I could get past how much butter was involved. Still, the trout was deliciously flaky and the huckleberry sauce managed to remain savory, without the cloying sweetness such sauces can sometimes take on. A scoop of simple wild rice mix and bright green broccolini finished out the plate. The rice and broccoli would have benefited from a little seasoning of some sort -- perhaps some butter -- as they had a hard time competing with the mixture of tastes and textures of the trout. And they definitely fell short of the incredible rice that accompanied my companion's Spice Island Tuna ($17). This was a monumental portion of two yellow fin tuna steaks, with a thick rub of a pungent spice mixture. The tuna was served over a delectable, creamy coconut-almond rice that was sweet and crunchy and exotic. On top of the whole thing was a generous amount of a colorful fresh mango salsa. Some lightly steamed spinach grounded this beautiful and very tasty plate. Chef Tansy must be into mangos, because two other entrees -- a chicken with mango and raspberry sauce and a mango tuna steak salad -- are also featured. Judging from the Spice Island Tuna, I would say he has a way with this fruit, which works so well with fish and poultry.

Our server also recommended the spicy garlic linguine ($11), a holdover from Quinn's, and the spaghetti squash with fresh tomato basil sauce ($12).

For dessert, we couldn't pick among the three options, so we tried the sampler -- a bargain at just $5. We enjoyed the Almond Joy Truffle -- a gooey chocolate creation with coconut and almonds. My companion took a liking to the Apple Brown Betty, which had just a hint of lemon. I am not a big fan of the ubiquitous cheesecake in its ten thousand variations -- especially the heavy, gooey ones. But Tansy's rhubarb raspberry cheesecake was my favorite of the trio -- with the mildly tart, light-textured but rich cheesecake complemented by a lovely fruity sour cream sauce.

By the time we finished our dinners, a few more diners were arriving in anticipation of the start of the evening's live music. UpStage serves dinners until midnight, and our server said things tend to get busy later in the evening. But there seems to be plenty of room for people who want an earlier meal to get in on one of the best-kept secrets of the Spokane dining scene.

Publication date: 06/12/03

Bloomsday 2020 @ Spokane

Through Sept. 27
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