Fresh & amp;amp; Tasty

by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & Heights Cuisine RESTAURANTS & r & If you travel along 29th Avenue through Lincoln Heights regularly, you've probably noticed the transformation of the former Skipper's fast-food restaurant into a sleek yet warm dining space. Partners Jeff Jenkins, Tim Hartman and Carrie Davis opened Vin Rouge about a month ago with little fanfare, but their following has grown in just that short time. Even on a Monday night, many tables are full with parties of two or four sampling from a menu that's open to sharing.

Chef Tim Hartman says they've designed the menu with an extensive selection of small plates while still offering a variety of entr & eacute;es for those who prefer a more traditional dining experience. A seared chicken breast with reggiano risotto is the most popular entr & eacute;e, he says, while the Steak Vin Rouge -- a 10-ounce "All Natural" Misty Isle rib steak with Crimson Thor potatoes from Olsen Farms -- is the house specialty. But the small plates show off the creativity in the kitchen -- and give diners the chance to taste smaller portions of several dishes, rather than having to make just one choice.

That's assuming, of course, that your dining companions are willing to share. My 80-year-old mother came along with me, mainly because I'd promised her dinner, but I also assumed that she'd be polite and docile. Boy, was I wrong. When the grilled beef brochettes with caramelized butternut squash landed in front of her, she tore into the dish with the gusto of a longshoreman; I was lucky to snag a tiny piece, even after I offered her half of my wasabi crab and rice cakes. The gnocchi -- small dumplings made from Olsen Farms potatoes and topped with a delicate sauce of fresh tomato and white wine -- met a similar fate.

Fortunately, I kept one of the more unusual offerings to myself: grilled asparagus under a poached egg and a pile of crispy fried onions, with a brushstroke of balsamic reduction on the side. But I don't feel selfish; Mom always told me to eat my vegetables.

Vin Rouge, 3029 E. 29th Ave., is open daily 11 am-11 pm. A special Social Hour menu is offered daily from 3-5:30 pm and from 9 pm-closing. Call 535-8800.

The Blogging Chef CYBERFOOD & r & It seems strange to troll the Internet for the latest in Spokane food news, but that's exactly what I've been doing ever since I stumbled into The Back Kitchen, the blog hosted by Latah Bistro chef David Blaine. He posts a new entry nearly every day, and topics range from the latest local restaurant openings (or plans) to recipes and kitchen tips to a discourse on drive-through coffee stands. Blaine is passionate about bringing sustainability -- both environmentally and in business -- to the world of dining, and that zeal comes through in his posts. But he's equally passionate about good food and sharing his knowledge with us non-professional food enthusiasts.

Before starting his own blog, Blaine contributed to Latah Lounge, the blog hosted by the Latah Bistro and owners Dave and Heather DuPree. After a while, though, he felt he had more to say -- and different things to say -- than could be accommodated in the restaurant's blog, so he established his own beachhead in cyberspace. Blaine still posts to Latah Lounge occasionally, and there are links on each blog to the other site.

Blaine's newest project on his blog is "Write a Spokane Menu," what he calls "an experiment in food populism." In the introduction, he writes: "I do understand that sometimes going to a restaurant is about adventure and discovery, but forget about that. I want to know what kind of food you would put on a menu if you had the chance." Visitors may log in and add items to a growing Spokane menu; new contributors may add to the menu but not remove a previous entry. Homemade comfort food bumps up against haute cuisine on the list, but that's half the fun.

Other bloggers track the pulse of Spokane's food scene from the perspective of the dining public -- the foodie -- but as far as I know, Blaine is the first local chef to dive into the blogosphere. If others are out there, please let me know. If not -- well, hey, gang, here's your challenge.

And speaking of Latah Bistro, owner Dave DuPree says they're ending their experiment of offering breakfast on the weekends -- it was just too different from the rest of the bistro's business, he says. But they will now serve lunch starting at 11 am on both Saturday and Sunday -- good news for late risers and those who seek out a nice meal after Sunday morning church services.

Chef David Blaine's blog can be found at & lt;a href="" & The Back Kitchen & lt;/a & . The Latah Lounge is at Latah Bistro, 4241 S. Cheney-Spokane Rd., is open for lunch Mon-Fri, 11:30 am-2 pm; Sat-Sun, 11 am-2 pm; and for dinner nightly 5 pm-close. Call 838-8338.

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