Inspiring lunch items include the Vietnamese burrito with Ponzu sauce, decadent Portobello mushroom and Cambozola cheese on ciabatta and the Cuban pulled pork sandwich ($7-$8), served with fries, salad or soup (try their French onion with Guinness). Also intriguing: the soft-shell crab salad with lemon-lime vinaigrette ($9) and farfalle pasta with crimini mushrooms, broccolini, walnuts and mascarpone cheese ($8).
Dinner includes signature dishes like roast pork tenderloin and poached green apple ($15), New Zealand lamb chops ($19), spicy plum duck ($20) or sesame-seared ahi ($16). Grazers will appreciate the "first plates" ($5-$9): beef satay with huckleberry-peanut sauce or "bodacious bi-valves" (green mussels) in garlic-shallot broth. Add a Caesar, Mediterranean or house salad ($4/half, $7/whole) and a microbrew (nothing on tap here) or glass of wine for a tasty meal. Finish with house-made pastries like the fig torte, served with stout coffee or a glass of port (ask for the new flight winelist).
My grilled steelhead with red onion fennel compote ($15) was good, the orzo risotto being the real taste surprise. "I like to create fun blends of flavors without being absurd," says chef Steve Jensen, a Lewiston native whose pedigree includes Las Vegas' prestigious Bellagio and Venetian hotels. This top-of-his-class graduate of Le Cordon Bleu chats amiably with customers alongside owner Chris Mueller, whose own pedigree includes managing Spokane's Luna and Coeur d'Alene's Beverly's. Mueller worked his way up the restaurant food chain from humble busser, dishwasher and bartender to offer a service-oriented dining experience that doesn't abandon flavor for fou-fou.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
Bistro on Spruce, 1710 N. 4th St., Coeur d'Alene, is open Mon-Thu 11 am-8 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-10 pm and Sun 4-8 pm. Call (208) 664-1774.
GIFTS Sugarplum Visions
My fellow procrastinators, the last minute is upon us. The good news is that local food makes a great gift. And when you buy it at the last minute, it's all the more fresh. (OK, that might be a tiny justification, but I'm sticking with it.)
Downtown, MADELEINE'S has chocolate-covered soft peanut brittle, pumpkin fudge, chocolate fudge, espresso biscuits and a variety of French cookies all wrapped up for gift giving. Soft peanut brittle may sound like an oxymoron, but it's actually just a bit crumblier than typical brittles -- more like the consistency of a Butterfinger bar, only with a more peanutty flavor. The espresso biscuits are tiny not-so-sweet cookies that are heavenly with coffee.
For something savory, head down the street to HILLS' restaurant, where you can pick up a 6-ounce jar of their signature Firecracker Spice Blend ($5). Your favorite grillmaster will enjoy Dave Hill's special mix of salt, garlic, paprika, onion and spices with a peppery zing.
Up on the South Hill, FERRANTE'S sells packages of their house-made candied pecans ($6) plus gift bags of Italian cookies ($5) from local company Tasteful Endeavors: slightly sweet, flat pizzelles made on an iron (like a waffle iron), with just a hint of anise; and scalili, sweet fried honey cookies.
Of course, nothing beats a gift of fine chocolate under the tree, and one of the best sources is LATAH BISTRO, where they've had a chocolate sampler on the dessert menu since opening three years ago. They've got artisan chocolates from Pralus, Santander and Valrhona, to name just a few; you can mix and match your own bars, or choose a gift pack wrapped up in reused burlap coffee bags from Thomas Hammer Coffee to maintain the theme of earth-friendly sustainability. For a savory touch amid the sweet, add in a 4-ounce pack of their spicy rosemary cashews ($6), made right there.
One of my new favorites is chocolate from Theo Chocolate out of Seattle, and the CHOCOLATE APOTHECARY in the Flour Mill carries a good selection of its bars. The 75 percent blend, with cocoa from Ghana, Panama and Ecuador (all Fair Trade certified), ranks high on my list, but for something unusual, try their Phinney label "Bread and Chocolate" bar, a surprising mix of dark chocolate, artisan breadcrumbs and a kick of salt. That's all you need for a sweet holiday.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
Madeleine's Caf & eacute; and Patisserie, 707 W. Main Ave. (624-2253)Hills' Restaurant, 401 W. Main Ave. (747-3946)Ferrante's, 4516 S. Regal St. (443-6304)Latah Bistro, 4241 S. Cheney-Spokane Rd. (838-8338)The Chocolate Apothecary, 621 W. Mallon Ave. (324-2424)