by Lauren McAllister

JoeCo Brazils fills the spot that housed the venerable Travos restaurant for many years, and later the highly popular but short-lived Quinn's. It's in a primo location, across the street from the Davenport and the Met. We stopped by on a recent Saturday night to check out this little restaurant that has a tough act to follow.

When they opened in January, co-owners Joel Stehr and Adrian Brazil told us they aimed to offer Spokane "affordable gourmet," and with our meal -- including salads, appetizer, dessert and wine -- coming in at about $90, they have succeeded.

The vintage pale gold vinyl booths and counter stools, complete with button-tucked detailing along their tops, have been integrated with walls painted in spicy reds and yellows. There's nothing too fancy about the tables, except for a starched white napkin wrapped around your tableware. And JoeCo Brazils has a happening "liquid lounge" at the rear of the restaurant that attracted a steady stream of customers passing by our table throughout the evening. To emphasize their commitment to the downtown scene, JoeCo Brazils serves food until midnight.

We started the night with shrimp rumaki ($7). Prawns and fresh pineapple were wrapped in bacon and broiled, then drizzled with a "roasty red pepper sauce" and placed on a bed of Napa cabbage. This was a great combination of sweet and salty, with a little crunch and freshness from the cabbage. The unique red pepper salsa accompanying the shrimp was zesty with cilantro and garlic and brought out the smoky flavor of the bacon.

Dinner salads can be added to your entree for $4.50 or are available in a bigger size separately. If you want to split a regular salad, that's OK, too. I opted to try the dinner salad versions of the JoeCo Brazils secret salad. Baby spinach and mixed greens were tossed with julienne-sliced water chestnuts, candied pecans, mandarin oranges and red onion. The dinner version includes marinated chicken breast for $10. The salad was dressed with a "secret ginger garlic dressing" that was sweet and tasty. If you like your salad lightly dressed, you might want to order the dressing on the side.

My companion tested the spinach dinner salad (also available with grilled chicken breast for $10). His salad was a little more assertive than mine, with rich Asiago cheese, dried cherries and slices of wine-poached pear, all in a delicious balsamic vinaigrette.

So far so good. The appetizer and salads were intriguing in their use of fruit, and ingredients were top quality.

The entr & eacute;e menu includes fish, chicken, beef, pork, seafood and tofu. After a brief flirtation with the chicken California (chicken breast breaded and pan-fried, deglazed with white wine and stacked with fresh avocado, tomato, Swiss cheese and served on a grilled pineapple wheel, $12), my companion chose the prosciutto wrapped scallops skewered on a rosemary sprig ($16). The rosemary was almost too potent a counterpoint to the sweet scallops and salty prosciutto, but the whole thing came together nicely, and somewhat surprisingly, in the delicate coconut cream sauce. Rice and a generous serving of delicious grilled zucchini and broccolini rounded out this satisfying plate.

Another interesting option was the pork medallions with mixed fruit and chutney ($14). In this dish, pork meets the farmer's market of fruit with the menu listing apples, cranberries, apricots, grapes, strawberries and pineapple along with an apple brandy chutney as accompaniments to the meat.

But I couldn't resist the Guajillo rack of lamb ($18), mostly because of the pumpkin seeds. That's right -- in this dish, rack of lamb, marinated in Guajillo pepper sauce, was grilled and dipped into a "roasty" red pepper jelly glaze and then crusted in toasted pumpkin seeds. The lamb was nothing short of fabulous, cooked to perfection and tender. The piquant flavor of the marinade remained, while the meat retained its texture. The pumpkin seeds had a hard time sticking to the meat, but no matter -- they were fun and tasty to discover in the juices on the plate. Accompanying the lamb was a large helping of the same grilled vegetables gracing my companion's platter, and a serving of cilantro mashed potatoes. These potatoes were a delight. They were hardly mashed at all, left in a chunky state and mixed with just a touch of cilantro and crunchy corn. The homemade taste and texture was an inspired complement to the sweet, sophisticated rack of lamb. The leftovers were equally wonderful the next day for lunch. All in all, one of the best entrees I've had in recent memory.

Desserts are all made in-house and include a cheesecake with Oreos, streusel-topped apple pie made in individual tart tins, a poached pear, cr & egrave;me brulee and a chocolate torte. The cr & egrave;me brulee ($6) was rich and smooth textured, with the requisite crunchy sugar topping. I was happy there was nothing to compete with the egg and vanilla flavors. My companion's chocolate torte ($7) was two layers of dense cake, joined with a white chocolate and a chocolate mousse-like frosting. It was a formidable work of chocolate, and he enjoyed it fully.

Service was pleasant and attentive throughout the evening, although our server could have used a little more briefing about the restaurant's background; she was knowledgeable about the menu and promptly refilled our water and whisked away empty plates.

At JoeCo Brazils, the whole hip urban dining experience comes together: You can watch the newly active streets of downtown Spokane through the windows, listen to the sounds of Coldplay overhead and sample one of the most inventive -- and relatively affordable -- menus in the region.

Publication date: 04/22/04

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