The interior is delightfully overdone, with two-toned bamboo walls, bamboo-patterned laminate on the floor, even fresh-growing bamboo on the table. Thai-inspired decoration is everywhere: woven into the seating fabric, inlaid in gold onto the edge of the granite table tops, hung as elaborately dressed figures carved in relief. In the bustling main dining room, the 17-foot-high dome ceiling lit with pulsing LED lights glows a soothing cerulean blue like the evening sky. A tropical-themed patio is still under construction.
Although the Coeur d'Alene interior is unusual, the menu is similar to all locations, from commonly ordered items like Phad Thai, satay and fried rice to such house specialties as the Sea Bass Mango Tango ($17) and the Crying Tiger ($17), which is an 8-ounce flatiron steak with wok-toasted mixed vegetables and coconut black-brown rice.
Fortified by pungent Thai iced tea, we ordered the shrimp Phad Thai ($10-$12) and the Orange Beef ($12), both of which were fragrant and flavorful, with all the right textures: crisp vegetables, tender meat, soft noodles. Lunch combos are $9, and appetizers like spring rolls, fried tofu, coconut prawns and steamed clams vary from $6 to $10. When the weather warms, I'm trying the Mieng Kahm -- sliced toasted coconut, ginger, red onion, lime, Thai chili, peanuts and plum sauce wrapped in Hawaiian Bai Cha Plu leaves ($9) -- with a side of Singha Thai beer. (They also serve domestic and imported beer, as well as a few white and red wines.)
Flavorful and spicy food, the oddly glitzy interior and the buzz of being new and busy -- we waited 20 minutes for a table -- make Thai Bamboo a delightful experience.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
Thai Bamboo, 2010 N. 4th St., Coeur d'Alene, is open Mon-Thu 11:30 am-9 pm, Fri 11:30 am-9:30 pm, Sat noon-9:30 pm and Sun noon-9 pm. Visit www.thaibamboorestaurant.com or call (208) 667-5300.
DINING Dip With Friends
For people of a certain age, fondue brings on instant '70s flashbacks, and, indeed, the first MELTING POT fondue restaurant opened near Orlando, Florida, in 1975. But a funny thing happened: Even though fondue largely disappeared with polyester shirts, the concept embraced by the Melting Pot kept right on going. The new Spokane edition, located on the second floor of the Crescent building, is one of about 130 locations nationwide, and it has been fully booked since opening last week.
One reason might be that fondue is not just food -- it's a participatory event. Diners at the Melting Pot don't sit and wait passively for a fully prepared individual dish to arrive; dinner here means collaboration. Servers bring the meal's components to the table and prepare the fondue, lending an element of performance art. Companions dip their food into a common pot. Some irredeemable Type A's might covet and compete -- keep your fork away from that last strawberry, bud -- but most meals are distinctly communitarian.
"A customer commented that he and his wife had more conversation here than at other restaurants," says local franchise owner William Miller.
The most popular order, especially for first-timers, is the "Big Night Out," a four-course meal for two ($78-$96 per couple) with cheese fondue, a salad course, an entr & eacute;e fondue and a chocolate fondue for dessert. There's always a featured combo for the four-course meal, but mixing and matching and creating your own combinations is part of the fun.
Of course, you don't have to get all four courses. Coming in for, say, a glass of wine ($5-$10) from the lengthy wine list and a cheese fondue ($16 for two) of your choice is just fine, says Miller. Or patrons will order just the cheese course and dessert -- chocolate fondue runs $14 for the "small," with plenty of strawberries, bananas, brownies, cheesecake and marshmallows for two, or $28 for the "regular."
Miller first bumped into the Melting Pot as a business traveler while working in telecommunications, and he decided to bring the concept back to his hometown. "No matter what the business, it's all about taking care of people," he says. "When you share fondue with someone, you remember it. It's all about the experience."
-- ANN M. COLFORD
The Melting Pot, 707 W. Main Ave., Skywalk level, is open Sun-Thu 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 4-11 pm. Bar opens at 4 pm daily. Reservations recommended. Visit meltingpot.com or call 926-8000.