Attention to detail is a hallmark of the Historic Davenport Hotel. That's obvious from the meticulous restoration job it underwent 20 years ago, including the Spanish Renaissance lobby that's a beautiful spot to indulge in a meal from its Palm Court Grill.
The attention to detail didn't stop when the hotel reopened in 2002. Last week as I met with Palm Court chef Adam Swedberg and the Davenport's head of marketing, Matthew Jensen, they'd just come from a meeting with Davenport owner Walt Worthy in which the three had literally sifted through some of the kitchen's signature crab cakes to make sure they were up to Worthy's standards.
While many use a mix of lump crab meat in their crab cakes, the Palm Court uses only the fry legs of fresh Alaskan Dungeness crab, "that real nice, long piece of meat out of the main part of the leg," Swedberg says. "That's a fry leg — the most succulent, meatiest, biggest part."
Using just the fry legs is more expensive — about $36.50 per pound versus $24 per pound for lump meat — but Worthy wants nothing less than the best, Jensen says. "He doesn't care about the money he spends on it, he just wants the best quality to come out."
The results speak for themselves. Plenty of places offer crab cakes, but few can match the Palm Court's version. Besides the Dungeness fry legs, they're served with an excellent mustard aioli, a perfectly cooked pasta rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables drizzled with a balsamic reduction and chive oil. It's a harmonious collection of flavors served as both an entree ($28.95, with two crab cakes) or appetizer with melon slaw taking place of the rice and veggies ($14.95).
Swedberg's worked in various Davenport kitchens for 14 years, and consistency is a hallmark, and a requirement for a customer base who knows what it wants: the Davenport dishes they know and love.
"Our crowd that we kind of have here in this hotel are a little bit older crowd," Swedberg says. "They're not looking for that new, modern style of food. They're kind of coming here to look for something they're more comfortable with. The classics."
For many of them, that means going straight to the "Fresh Dungeness Crab" section of the menu — yes, crab dishes get their own page beyond other fish and meat dishes. The Davenport crab Louis salad ($26.95) is easily the most popular item; it was invented for Louis Davenport himself more than a century ago by chef Edward Mathieu, and it is delicious, topped with those Dungeness fry legs. While the kitchen makes tens of thousands of the crab Louis salads annually, the crab cakes are a popular item as well.
"We probably do five crab cake batches a week; they make about 50 per batch, so about 250 crab cakes a week," Swedberg says.
They're a favorite of Worthy's, as is the wild Alaskan halibut ($34.95) and the Palm Court's prime rib French dip sandwich ($24.95), the meat shaved thin to order.
Being a hotel restaurant, the Palm Court Grill obviously has to cover all the bases of a traveling clientele, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Swedberg prides himself on being able to deliver special requests in addition to the luxurious items filling the menu.
Whether you're in for a crab-filled entree or a snack like the Cougar Gold cheese dip ($12.95) or hummus plate ($11.95), you don't want to walk out without trying the Davenport Signature Sundae ($9.95), a mountainous combination of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, the Davenport's signature peanut brittle, hot fudge and caramel. Its decadence is fitting, given the setting. ♦
For more great seafood, also try: Anthony's (Spokane and Coeur d'Alene), Syringa Japanese Cafe & Sushi Bar (Coeur d'Alene), Hay J's Bistro (Liberty Lake)