by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & Steaming Hot RESTAURANTS & r & Dining at the Steam Plant Grill has always been interesting. Where else are you surrounded by the unique atmosphere of an actual steam plant with views of catwalks, piping and steam plant control panels? The restaurant's menu is interesting as well, featuring contemporary Northwest cuisine. All that, plus you've got Coeur d'Alene Brewing Co. beers brewed right on the premises.

After closing for remodeling for two weeks in early January, the Steam Plant Grill is newly reopened. It not only sports a new kitchen but a revamped menu.

"It's great! We have more room to cook and coordinate food," says Chef Barry Matthews about the new kitchen. "With our new menu, I've brought in more Northwest flavors and specialties. We're also using more local and farm-raised products, like beef and chicken, to make our food as healthy as possible," he adds.

The lunch menu has seen extensive changes. A pulled-pork sandwich is braised in house-made huckleberry ale barbecue sauce and smoked for tenderness. Local Shepherd's Grain bread is covered with herbed cream cheese and piled high with tomato, avocado, lettuce, onion, cucumber, red and green peppers and mushrooms for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.

New specialties include pasta carbonara with pancetta bacon saut & eacute;ed with caramelized onions, tomatoes, garlic and red chilies. The vanilla bourbon steak is a popular item. And it's no wonder. A seven-ounce steak is marinated in house-brewed vanilla bourbon stout, broiled and topped with cilantro and Gorgonzola cheese.

If it's burgers you crave, the Steam Plant Grill has new beef, buffalo and chicken versions. The Gorgonzola burger has Cajun seasonings and garlic aioli spread. The Big Sky burger's seasoned buffalo meat is basted with house-made huckleberry ale barbecue sauce. A pepper-jack chicken burger is marinated in cracked pepper and white wine, served with chipotle aioli.

"With more room in the kitchen, we're making our own beer bread with our huckleberry ale and serving it with honey butter," Matthews explains. "We're still serving our tender prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights, plus I've added a few other items on the dinner menu."

Those would include an oven-baked Alaskan halibut topped with herbed cream cheese and complemented with a champagne cream. A Jack Daniel's 12-ounce New York steak is also new, topped with mushrooms saut & eacute;ed in a scrumptious sauce of Tennessee whiskey, garlic, Gorgonzola cheese and demi-glace.

"We're catering to what our customers said they wanted," says Lenae Fritz, manager of the Steam Plant Grill.

The Steam Plant Grill, 159 S. Lincoln St., is open Sun-Thurs 11:30 am-9:30 pm, Fri-Sat 11:30 am-10:30 pm. Call 777-3900.

Wine Tasting BENEFIT & r & Vino's John Allen calls it an "astounding tasting." The first annual Fruit of the Vine Wine Tasting this Friday showcases premium wines from the Northwest and California.

"We chose the wines for their variety and quality, as well as to represent all prices of wines," says Cathy Carter, who helped her husband Thomas choose the wines.

Event-goers can taste fine Northwest wines from Woodward Canyon, Three Rivers, Lone Canary, Dunham Cellars, Andrew Will and Waterbrook Winery. Varietals from Silver Oak, Chateau St. Jean, Dominus, Roederer Champagne and Terra Blanca wineries will also be featured.

"It's a relaxed evening offering wine tasting, dessert and wine sales, with wines stationed throughout the Grand Pennington Ballroom,"

Carter adds.

A chocolate fondue fountain and assorted desserts from the Davenport's pastry chef are sure to delight.

All this high-caliber tasting goes for a good cause, with proceeds benefiting St. Mary's Catholic School in the Spokane Valley.

The Fruit of the Vine Wine Tasting is Friday, Feb. 3, from 7-10 pm at the Davenport Hotel. Tickets -- $50; $75 per couple -- are available at Vino, 222 S. Washington St., and Williams Seafood, 10627 E. Sprague. Call 924-4300.

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