by Susan Hamilton and Ann M. Colford & r & & r & 'Tis the Season BISTRO FARE & r & It's a new month, and a new season is right around the corner, inspiring chefs with fresh foods to satisfy seasonal tastes. At the 9th Street Bistro inside Huckleberry's, Executive Chef Jamie Lombardi is planning her spring menu, even though temperatures still say winter.

"Everything we do depends on what's seasonal for the produce," Lombardi says.

The winter menu now in place emphasizes root vegetables, legumes and savory dishes that warm both body and soul, like cumin-crusted tofu served on a jalapeno bagel.

"We have a new eight-bean salad that's all organic," she says. "The new baked pasta has been really popular; it has Portobello mushrooms, spinach and oven-roasted tomatoes."

Lombardi also creates items based on seasonal holidays; right now, specials celebrate the festivity of Mardi Gras. The crab cake po' boy sandwich ($8), served with either a green salad or chips, melts in the mouth with just a hint of Louisiana kick.

"I just made some jambalaya," she says, "I'll run that and the crab cakes [on the menu] for a couple of weeks. Then I'll get into something Irish -- a lamb stew, some soda bread."

The menu highlights organic ingredients as much as possible, Lombardi says, and she's working toward developing relationships with local farmers and food producers. "I've had conversations with some local farmers to see what we can do, because we know there's demand for [local products]."

Lombardi hasn't always been a chef -- she spent 13 years in a business career before chucking it all and going back to school at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy, where her husband, Robert, is the head pastry chef. "I just didn't want to sit in an office," she recalls.

After graduation, she worked in catering for a time and then signed on at the Hayden Lake Country Club. Following a summer stint in Alaska, she joined Huckleberry's a year and a half ago.

In addition to heading up the bistro, she has also developed a series of classes with Huckleberry's wine steward, Drew Smith, about the pairing of fine food and wine. "Our goal is for everyone to have fun," she says. They must be achieving that goal -- the entire series of classes is nearly sold out. -- Ann M. Colford

9th Street Bistro at Huckleberry's, 926 S. Monroe St., open 7 am-10 pm daily. Call 624-1349.

Taste Adventure DINING & r & It's impossible not to involve your senses in the experience of eating Indian food. The tastes are pungent and spicy while the colors are vibrant. The smells of exotic seasonings, the touch of brittle naan bread and cold, creamy raita sauce are flavors not often found in the Inland Northwest.

The newly opened Bombay Palace offers just such a taste adventure -- right in the heart of downtown Spokane. Owner Jarman Hothi has brought in an experienced chef, who worked at the north side Taste of India restaurant for three years before starting at Bombay Palace.

Bombay Palace specializes in food from the northern Indian province of Punjab. The striking feature of Punjabi cuisine is the lavish use of butter, cream and cheese -- mainly in sauces. Tandoori specialties cooked in clay ovens give unique aromas to meats and breads. Punjabi lassis (rich yogurt drinks) are well-known antidotes for the spicy food.

The buffet lunch at Bombay Palace affords an opportunity to try four appetizers, three meat dishes and two vegetarian dishes. Since the buffet changes daily, you won't find the same dish often. Bombay Palace's dinner menu features tandoori specialties of barbecued chicken, fish, lamb kabobs and prawns. Or try the mixed grill, offering a taste of each. The chicken tikka is a tender taste treat, balanced with yogurt, garlic and spices.

Bombay Palace's meat dishes are representative of good Punjabi cuisine. The mango lamb and lamb vindaloo (with a tomato-based curry), as well as fish jalfrazies (a lighter dish made with saut & eacute;ed cod) and prawn coconut curry are all popular. There are many vegetarian options as well. The vegetable korma's mixed veggies are enfolded in a creamy cashew curry. The spinach paneer is made with house-made cheese. Bombay's breads are made by hand when ordered and cooked in a special oven.

"It's not fast food," Hothi says. "It's fresh and healthy." -- Susan Hamilton

Bombay Palace, 128 W. Third Ave., is open daily from 11 am-3 pm for lunch and 5-9 pm for dinner. Call 747-7730.

Golden Harvest: Flour Sacks from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 15
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