by Susan Hamilton and Ann M. Colford & r & & r & Eurasian Adventures DINING & r & Sometimes you have to go outside the box when you're eating out -- beyond big Macs and crispy fried chicken, even beyond veal parmesan and dim sum. You might even go on a culinary adventure to that Eurasian crossroads of East and West, Armenia.

What's so great about Armenian cuisine? Elaborate preparations, well-seasoned and multi-ethnic food, and sumptuous presentations for starters. Then there's the hospitality and multiple courses Armenians are known for. But where are you going to find Armenian food in the Inland Northwest?

Ararat Grill, a newly opened restaurant on the North Side, features Armenian, Mediterranean and Russian cuisine. If you think this is just a rehash of Neva, the Russian tearoom and restaurant that occupied this same space last year, think again.

"We make everything from scratch," says owner George Melkouyan. "Our food brings back memories of feasts in the old country."

Ararat Grill's lamb, pork and chicken kebobs are seasoned, marinated, grilled Armenian style and served with grilled veggies and rice. Russian stroganoff dinners with beef, chicken and pork are oven roasted, then simmered in Madeira wine and a sauce of heavy cream, saut & eacute;ed onions, mushrooms and sour cream. There's even a savory Cornish game hen dish, seasoned with garlic and dill then pan roasted.

Lunch at Ararat Grill includes chicken walnut or Portobello mushroom sandwiches and fresh bread with eggplant or mushroom spread. Salads are no less run-of-the-mill. The Shuba Russian salad layers potatoes, carrots, eggs, onions, beets and herring. There's a grilled vegetable salad with eggplant, bell pepper and tomato. Or try the tahbule (bulgur mixed with fresh herbs, tomatoes and olive oil) or Greek salad.

End your meal with an exotic dessert. Blinys (small, savory pancakes) can be topped with whipped cream, fruit, honey or ice cream. Or try baklava (a Middle Eastern filo pastry filled with nuts and honey) or tiramisu.

After a trip to Ararat Grill, who knows what exciting culinary adventures you'll be ready for? -- Susan Hamilton

Ararat Grill, 2909 N. Division, is open Mon-Wed 11 am-11 pm, Thurs-Sat 11 am-2 am, Sun noon-8 pm. Call 325-3552.

Little Bite of Heaven BAKERY & r & When was the last time you saw an honest-to-goodness fresh-baked whoopie pie in a bakery case? If you're like me, you may not want to admit to having memories that go back that far. But whoopie pies are just one of the delectable items available at the Cielo Bakery on Northwest Boulevard. Sadly, when I visited the bakery, the customer just ahead of me snagged the last of the four-inch cream-filled chocolate sandwiches. Alas. I comforted myself with a peanut-butter-and-jelly bar -- like a creamy, crumbly peanut butter cookie, only better -- and followed it with a dirt bomb chaser.

Oh, don't give me that look. A dirt bomb is nothing more than a muffin, made from doughnut batter and a hint of cardamom, that's rolled in cinnamon and sugar when hot from the oven. It's one of the specialties at Cielo, where the name is Spanish for "heaven," and the baked goods will take you there.

"Everything we make is what we enjoy," says Sue Teague, who opened the bakery with her daughter, Erica, back in January. "We only use unsalted butter and real sour cream. We don't cut corners on ingredients."

Teague is the daughter of Darrell and Kathy Jones, long-time proprietors of Donut Parade on North Hamilton, a Spokane institution. She worked at the doughnut shop all through high school and college but never thought she'd be running her own place. When Erica completed the baking program at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley, she tapped her mother's knowledge of the local retail bakery business. Now, Erica does the baking while Sue greets the customers up front.

Cielo serves Doma coffee to go with the rich baked goods, including key lime bars, muffin tops and baked Amish oatmeal. On Saturdays, the Teagues add savory specialties like ham and cheese omelet rolls -- imagine an omelet served in rolled-up slices, jelly roll-style -- to the plethora of sweet treats.

"We want Cielo to be a place where you can come to be pampered," says Teague. It might just be the sugar buzz, but under the deep blue star-filled ceiling, I'm feeling pretty comfortable. -- Ann M. Colford

Cielo Bakery, 1908 W. Northwest Blvd., is open 7 am-3 pm, Tue-Sat. Call 327-1429.

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

Through June 20
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