Late one evening a couple of months ago, I fielded a phone call from a friend who was looking for someplace to go out for dinner after 10 pm. Sadly, his options were rather limited. But if I got that call today, I could direct my friend to ELLA'S (or rather, ella's) at CenterStage, where the kitchen stays open and the full menu is now available clear through till 11 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and till 1:30 am Thursday through Saturday.
Chef Mike Dodd started his culinary career as a dishwasher, like a lot of chefs, and he has scrubbed the voluminous menu down to size -- keeping the most popular items, trimming some extras, and adding in some new treats especially for the summer season. One of my winter favorites, the rosemary chicken soup, remains and has been joined by three more soup choices ($7-$8), including a cooling apple-cucumber gazpacho. Three new entr & eacute;e salads ($17) -- Mandarin steak, hoisin duck and citrus salmon -- add to the warm-weather selections. Entr & eacute;e options now include a Kobe burger ($11) and lamb chops ($27), along with a gnocchi du jour ($9, half-order; $16, full), a creative combo dish highlighting the little Italian pillow-shaped dumplings. The selection of small pizzas -- pizzettas ($8-$9) -- remains popular, as does the list of eminently shareable small-bite plates ($3-$4).
Of course, there's always jazz on hand at ella's, along with plenty of libations including beer, scotch, ports, martinis and wines by the glass. And if you spend $20, the $5 cover charge -- applied Thursday through Saturday -- is waived. On our warm summer nights, when daylight lingers on the western horizon till long past 10 pm, now we have a place to dine after dark.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
ella's at CenterStage, 1017 W. First Ave., is open for dinner Tue-Wed 5:30-11 pm and Thu-Sat 5:30 pm-1:30 am. Call 747-7078.
DINING French Flair
Ah, France -- caf & eacute;s spilling out onto the streets, interesting cityscapes and people to watch, fantastic food, pastries and wine. Now downtown Spokane has its own French corner, since MADELEINE'S CAF & Eacute; AND PATISSERIE opened just this week. The former Cucina Cucina space has been transformed into a provincial French corner caf & eacute;, complete with outdoor dining, antique side tables, rustic tables and chairs, and open chandeliers surrounded by walls of periwinkle blue and buttercream yellow.
Owners Deb Green and Megan Poffenroth have combined their culinary skills to introduce diners to rustic French provincial food. The mother-daughter team's experience in the food world include Green's catering company, Shake, Rattle and Boil, that operated the Caf & eacute; MAC for the past three years. Poffenroth has helped out since she was 11 or 12, and she recently graduated from the San Francisco Baking Institute.
"Madeleine's food is a marriage of Mediterranean flavors from the south of France and northern Italy," Green explains. "We favor lots of herbs and cheese, but not heavy sauces."
Madeleine's specialties include classic French dishes like cassoulet (slow-cooked bean-and-meat casserole), coq au vin (chicken and wine), boeuf en Daube (beef braised in wine) and steak au poivre with pommes frites (pepper steak with French fries) -- all at reasonable prices. Green will also serve her beloved mac 'n' cheese (made with three types of cheese, b & eacute;chamel sauce and Black Forest ham), sausage and sage lasagna, and panini with balsamic grilled veggies, Fontina cheese and pesto.
Breakfast items run the gamut from herbed baked eggs in cream served with a toasted baguette to quiche Lorraine. Lunch brings sandwiches, like croque Monsieur (with Gruyere cheese, Black Forest ham and b & eacute;chamel sauce), and a variety of Continental salads. For dinner, have a slider (three mini burgers with caramelized sweet onion, Gruyere and Dijon mayo on soft brioche, served with pommes frites and fresh greens) or simply enjoy a cheese plate and glass of wine while you contemplate a dish to take home from the extensive cold cases.
"Where else in town can you have a fresh butter croissant and cappuccino while you watch the pastry chefs make artisan breads and pastries in our exhibition kitchen?" Green asks.
-- SUSAN HAMILTON
Madeleine's Caf & eacute; and Patisserie, 707 W. Main Ave., is open Mon-Wed 7 am-6:30 pm, Thu-Sat 7 am-10 pm. Call 389-1716.