by Lauren McAllister

We decided to check back in on Jimmy D's after a pleasant afternoon at the lake recently. On Sherman Avenue there was a lively, happy buzz of summer tourists strolling and starting to consider where to have dinner. We arrived early enough to be seated immediately, but we noticed right away that although the interior was the same, Jimmy D's has a new logo and name -- Stonegrill at Jimmy D's.

"We were doing great," says owner and Executive Chef Chip Thomas. "But we decided to take a risk and see what we can do." Thomas says he learned of the Stonegrill concept at a food trade show. Now at Jimmy D's, each of the special plates has an inset of volcanic granite that is heated to 750 degrees. Upon this rock is your choice of beef or seafood, just seared on the outside. As you cut your food, you sear each bite a second or two on each side to cook it.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical upon seeing this "concept." Why would I want to cook my food when I've gone out to dinner? What's the point of having a chef if I have to do all the cooking? What if I get third-degree burns on my hands and become permanently disabled in the process?

Our helpful and enthusiastic server, Shay, quickly put my fears to rest. The heat from the stone transfers most quickly through moisture, so a dry hand won't get burned for at least a second or two -- long enough to pull away. And she assured us we wouldn't believe how good food seasoned with a sprinkle of sea salt and no added oils would be.

We plunged in, starting with the warm bacon spinach salad ($5) which Shay graciously split onto two plates. This was a very tasty starter, with plenty of bacon and tomatoes and with chopped walnuts adding a nice earthy flavor which blended well with the lightly wilted spinach and sweet tangy dressing. Also delicious was the house bread with a sprinkling of poppy seeds and fennel. After our dinner when I spoke with Thomas, he recommended the new wild greens salad ($3) with the house balsamic vinaigrette.

Several Stonegrill starters are also available. The portobello mushroom ($7) or the New Zealand green lip mussels ($10) would be interesting to try.

Entr & eacute;es are served with fresh vegetables and the starch of the day, or are available in a "set"--a four-course dinner including soup or salad, sorbet, entr & eacute;e, dessert and coffee or tea for an additional $10. Thomas says many of the items from the old Jimmy D's menu are still available with the new stonegrill, the only difference is that the sauces now come on the side for dipping after each bite has been cooked.

Of course, since food arrives at the table in a mostly uncooked state, the cuts of meat and seafood must be absolutely top-quality -- there's no hiding under a heavy sauce here. To that end, Thomas says the restaurant now orders seafood on a daily basis instead of twice a week.

There are a number of beef selections, including a New York cut ($19) and a ribeye ($18), but the filet mignon is billed as the ultimate Stonegrill experience (petite $17, large $19 and super $23). For an extra $6-$9, you can add an ahi tuna steak, salmon filet or chilean sea bass filet to the petite cut. I opted for the ultimate surf and turf, a petite filet with the ahi tuna steak. The steak comes with your choice of Roquefort sauce or two-pepper sauce, and the tuna is served with a wasabi soy sauce.

Truly, this was among the best tuna preparations I have had. The delicate sprinkling of sea salt around the edge of my personal Stonegrill added just enough flavor, while each bite was hot and cooked just the way I wanted it. The steak was similarly perfect, the Angus beef as tender as butter. I really found no need for the sauces, although they were tasty.

My companion chose the prawns and scallops ($16). This dish requires a bit more experience to prepare. The prawns tended to overcook a bit -- we didn't notice the advice on the menu to remove half of your seafood entr & eacute;e to prevent it from overcooking. At any rate, he wouldn't have had any place to put it, as you would not want to mix your raw fish with the vegetables or mashed potatoes. The scallops were lovely and sweet, however, and my companion quickly began cooking them in the mild soy sauce that accompanied them. Soon most of the food on our table found its way onto his Stonegrill. The butter from our bread sizzled as we made potato pancakes out of our mashed potatoes. We added various sauces to sizzling bites of fish and steak.

Thomas says our reaction was not unique: "Last night I was in the dining room and the comments were, 'This is fantastic! This is fun!' " Still, for any customers who prefer their food prepared for them, says Thomas, anything on the menu can still be prepared back in the kitchen. And there are a few menu items, such as the macadamia nut halibut ($18) that are not available Stonegrilled.

On the night we visited desserts were a housemade B-52 flavored cr & eacute;me brul & eacute;e and a bread pudding with a caramel sauce. In addition, there were two other options from a local dessert provider. Since I don't like any flavoring except vanilla in my cr & eacute;me brulee, I opted for the house bread pudding. This was a huge portion with lots of thick caramel sauce. It was good, but didn't strike quite the right note on a warm summer evening. My companion's chilled chocolate torte creation was beyond rich and very tasty.

The Stonegrill at Jimmy D's is only the second restaurant of its kind in the U.S., but Thomas says one is scheduled to open soon in Portland, while one is already open in Vancouver, B.C. The concept certainly makes sense -- fresh, high-quality food prepared in a healthy way. The bonus is that not only is it healthy, it's a lot of fun.

Bloomsday 2020 @ Spokane

Through Sept. 27
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