The Inlander Staff & r & & r & SCRATCH & r & & r & Scratch occupies a sleek narrow space on the main floor of the Montvale Hotel, and there's undeniably a big-city energy to the place. The philosophy is to make as much as possible, well, from scratch. A red-jacketed salad chef prepares the tableside Caesar salad, heady with garlic and anchovies. From the big and varied entr & eacute;e menu, jumbo prawns come stuffed with a scallop-crab mixture and wrapped in pancetta for a salty, rich delicacy, and the lobster risotto was almost more satisfying than a lobster tail. A lovely delicate curry sauce enveloped the exotic black rice served with the cilantro-grilled halibut special, giving just the right combination of sweetness and savory to enhance the sweet fish. A dish of jumbo scallops with artichoke ravioli was an inspired blend of earth and sea, and the wild salmon with fragrant lemongrass and coconut-milk basmati rice was a gentle dish. For dessert, the coconut cr & egrave;me caramel was rich and sweet with an enjoyable coconut flavor, and the home-style peanut butter ice cream was impossible to eat without smiling. 1007 W. First Ave., 456-5656 (LM)


The Two-Seven features hearty, unpretentious food in a casual setting, like its siblings (the Elk in Spokane, Coeur d'Alene's Moon Time and the Porch in Hayden). Entr & eacute;es feature comfortable foods prepared in appealing combinations, like the Italian meatloaf sandwich and the exotic salpicon -- shredded beef that was falling-apart tender and flavorful, with chipotle peppers, jack cheese, red onions and roasted poblano peppers, beside lightly grilled flour tortillas. Superb. Also on the menu are favorites like the 74th Street gumbo, the chicken Caesar soft taco and the Anasazi bean burger. For dessert, the warm fudgy brownie and two big scoops of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce was a home run with our crowd. 2727 S. Mount Vernon St., 473-9766 (LM)


Inventiveness is a hallmark of chef Junior Solis, whose menu features gyoza (fried pork potstickers) and Hawaiian poke, sushi staples like nigiri (rice topped with fish/seafood) and sashimi (just the raw fish/seafood), and so many rolls that they're listed alphabetically. Oishii's poke starred a fresh-tasting maguro (red-meat tuna known as bluefin), firm-textured with a zesty marinade of scallion, sesame oil, sesame seeds and sea salt. The John Denver roll ($13) -- tempura shrimp, cream cheese, scallion, avocado and celery with smoked salmon, tempura crunchies and a glaze made with Sriracha chili sauce and honey -- induced a "Rocky Mountain high" with its balance of textures (firm, crunchy, soft) and flavors (hot, sweet, savory). The Idaho saketini with huckleberry syrup was light and not too sweet, but the real taste-pleaser was the Sex on the City Beach, which included sake, peach, cranberry, orange and a squeeze of lime. 116 N. First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho, (208) 263-1406 (CS)


Working folks chow down early at this homey and welcoming north-side breakfast eatery; later come the retirees and bleary-eyed college students. Service is attentive and the extensive breakfast menu has choices from egg combos to waffles to omelets, along with a few house specialties -- scrambles, breakfast burritos and even eggs benedict. The "Vegi & amp; Cheese" omelet ($7) was like an edible art project, with examples of some of its components -- tomato, green pepper, onion, black olive, mushroom and yellow cheese -- on top; the olive made the dish. Eggs come cooked as requested, and the bacon is thin, not too soft, not too crisp. The orange juice was fresh, pulpy and especially good. 2931 N. Division, 326-7144 (AC)


Some of the steakiest steaks in the Inland Northwest can be found a short drive east of Coeur d'Alene along I-90. Rubbed in seasoning, cooked over an open fire and delivered with a genuine attention to doneness, these thick slabs of beef are offered in enough combinations of cuts to meet any challenging appetite. ($19 for a top sirloin to $56 for the steak and lobster.) If anyone has room when the meal is done, the chocolate cake is legendary -- but you'll have plenty of chances to check it out as waitresses in skimpy cowgirl garb deliver slices to the packed crowd of locals and Interstaters. Appetizers are mostly standard pub food except for the Rocky Mountain oysters. 11741 E. Frontage Rd., Coeur d'Alene (I-90, exit 22), (208) 664-6665 (MD)

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