by Susan Hamilton

Things have been rockin' at locally owned Rock City Grill since it opened its new digs in River Park Square just 10 days ago. "It's been just like butter," owner Jim Rhoades says of the move. "We've got more business than we had at our other downtown location. It's way past what I expected."

Renowned designer John Rovtar worked his magic on the interior of the former Chevy's to create a warmer atmosphere. The dining room is decorated in shades of yellow, red and green, with dashes of leather and suede. Rhoades says he didn't want to lose the fun element that has been a signature of Rock City Grill. The neon-trimmed VW bus and bug from former Rock City restaurants occupy prominent places in the upper walls. Snake lights dangle throughout the room, some in technicolor. And the Blue Martini Bar's floor will make you think you're stepping into a swimming pool.

But what about the food? Chef Mike Scroggie, who has been with Rock City Grill for almost eight years, has retained R.C.'s popular menu.

"We started out with Italian food," Rhoades says. "Then our customers brought in their favorite recipes and we worked them into our menu." Rhoades also added a Thai sauce he created when he worked at Patsy Clark's. It's featured in a salad, calzone, panino, pasta dish and pizza at Rock City Grill. You know the one. It's in that Thai pizza that you keep coming back for. The one with the marinated chicken, prawns, mushrooms, peanuts and mozzarella covered in that spicy peanut sauce. "Some people says it's addicting," Rhoades explains.

The six other Rock City pizzas are stars in their own right. I'm partial to the Dungeness crab and artichoke heart pizza -- that is, if I'm not persuaded to order the buffalo chicken or barbecue chicken pizzas with their yummy sauces. Then again, I might be tempted by a Greek chicken dish, with its sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives and pesto, or lemon-garlic chicken on grilled polenta and drizzled with scallion herb vinaigrette. But what about the swordfish piccata with lemon-caper sauce or clam linguine with garlic-butter sauce? Maybe it'll be the Caesar salad with house-made dressing and anchovies or Asian chicken salad with wonton noodles and mandarin oranges. Or the made-from-scratch soup or the fat-not PG's calzone with veggies and marinara sauce. Or I might try the new halibut and chips. And some Parmesan Italian fries on the side, please.

You'll have to make your own decisions about Rock City's scrumptious menu items. And say hi to Jim as he makes the rounds of his award-winning restaurant. "I want to get to know my customer's names," he says. "And I've got to thank everyone for being here."

Rock City Grill, at 808 W. Main Ave., is open daily from 11 am-11:30 pm. Call 459-4740.

Spa Daze -- A bistro and wine bar in a day spa? Why not? You can work up an appetite while getting pampered and massaged, you know. Or if you want to check out the spa's amenities, having an innocent bite to eat or sip of wine or beer while noshing on hors d'oeuvres is the perfect alibi. Then again, if your idea of lunch or dinner includes a spa treatment, you'll no doubt find yourself at the recently opened Plastino's at the Highlands Day Spa in Post Falls.

Chef Greg Weddle brings his experience from some tony New York restaurants, as well as stints at resorts and clubs in the Virgin Islands and Dallas. He's created an imaginative menu of bistro-type fare, focusing on fresh, house-made items. The Tuscan shrimp salad features pan-seared shrimp, watercress, cucumber, tomato, shaved fennel and mixed greens drizzled with orange vinaigrette. A fajita steak wrap incorporates marinated flank steak, balsamic onions and bleu cheese spread. An oven-roasted chicken breast is complemented by a tomato-kalamata olive-caper-lemon sauce and served over a bed of vegetable couscous.

Plastino's interior has a Tuscan-European feel, with warm mahogany wood, amber walls and a wrought-iron gate entrance. It's the perfect place for relaxing, especially after a massage.

Plastino's, at 4365 Inverness in Post Falls, is open Monday-Thursday from 11 am-7 pm, on Friday-Saturday from 11 am-11 pm and on Sunday from 9 am-5 pm. Call (208) 773-0773.

A New South Hill Haunt -- The Inland Northwest is home to many little corner cafes hidden in curious places. You probably have your favorite breakfast or lunch spot that you frequent. Now there's another you can add to your list. The Breeze Way Caf & eacute; is a cozy eatery in the Medical Center Building near the Sacred Heart Doctors Building. You'll find the recently opened caf & eacute; in the first level of the building. The former pharmacy has been converted into a deli, done in gold, orange and maroon with a few tables as well as seating at a bar area along a windowed wall.

Owner Eddie Ambriz knows what customers want, since he also owns the Red Hot Grill in downtown's Crescent Court. "At Breeze Way, we specialize in paninis," he explains. Customers can choose from the Roman, with salami and ham; the Sicilian, with salami and turkey; the Island, with ham and turkey; the Pilgrim, with turkey and cranberries; and the Hammy, with, you guessed it, ham. A selection of cheeses, veggies and dressings accompany the paninis, which are served on grilled foccacia rolls.

Breeze Way also offers cold sandwiches (from the namesake's turkey, avocado and the works to BLT), wraps (Caesar or club), salads (garden, Caesar or chef) and soups. Creative types can make their own deli sandwiches from a variety of meats, cheeses, breads and accompaniments. Smoothies, jet tea, chai tea, Craven's coffee and espresso drinks are also featured.

Breeze Way Caf & eacute;, at 820 S. McClellan St., is open Monday-Friday from 7:30 am-5 pm. Call 455-4522.

Something to Sing About -- Speaking of favorite haunts, the Blue Moon Caf & eacute; in Sandpoint has recently relocated to the former Ivano's, just across from the Hydra Restaurant downtown. Owner Kim Duffy retains a comfortable, homey atmosphere in her cozy eatery.

Breakfast and lunch fare is offered at Blue Moon, with an emphasis on fresh food and homemade goodness. From saut & eacute;ed banana crepes and huevos rancheros to the Howler (a scrambled-egg dish) and biscuits and gravy, there are plenty of satisfying morning options. Lunch brings buffalo burgers, wraps, sandwiches (like the Caribbean, made with local pork, grilled onions and orange sauce), salads and homemade soups, like velvet mushroom or Caribbean black bean.

Blue Moon Caf & eacute;, at 124 S. Second Ave. in Sandpoint, is open from 7 am-2 pm daily. Call (208) 265-9953.

Five and Counting -- Fans of North Idaho's Toro Viejo restaurants now have another reason to celebrate. The popular Mexican eatery recently opened its fifth restaurant -- this one's in Rathdrum. Owner Ruben Briseno's other Toro Viejo restaurants in Coeur d'Alene, Hayden and Post Falls just weren't enough for customers. They needed another location to get those yummy chile rellenos and tamales that Toro Viejo does so well. Mexican dishes, daily specials, beer and wine are also featured.

Toro Viejo, at 1575 Westwood St. in Rathdrum, is open Sunday-Thursday from 11 am-8 pm, and on Friday-Saturday from 11 am-9 pm. Call (208) 687-3723.

More Buffet Time -- "Our lunch buffet is so popular that we're decided to offer a dinner buffet twice a month," says Delhi Palace's owner Bobby Kumar. On the first and third Wednesdays of each month, the dinner buffet features 10 curries and a wide variety of authentic Indian dishes from the extensive menu. It's the perfect way to see and taste the range of Punjabi food -- from Tandoori chicken to lamb jalfraizies to numerous vegetarian dishes.

For the holidays, Delhi Palace will offer its extensive buffet on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve from noon to 9 pm. Sandalwood Music of Chicago will perform Indian sitar music on Dec. 26-27 at Delhi Palace. Kumar says it's best to make a reservation for these performance evenings, as they have sold out in the past.

Delhi Palace, at 11114 E. Sprague, is open daily from 11 am-10 pm. Call 927-0500.

Tango and More -- This year's Diamonds and Divas Gala and Wine Auction on Dec. 27 will sparkle with the style of Buenos Aires. The benefit for the Spokane Opera begins at 6 pm at the Davenport Hotel. Argentinean-themed cuisine, entertainment, local and California wines, and auction packages will be featured. Call 535-7051 for tickets, which are $150 per person.

Publication date: 12/18/03

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