Three Women and an Appetizer

by Ann Colford, Anne McAllister and Suzanne Schreiner & r & C.I. Shenanigan's * 332 N. Spokane Falls Ct. * 455-6690

Chefs pour lots of creative energy into appetizers, but who has room for a first course when there's a full meal to follow? So we did something we've always wanted to do for "Three Women" -- we skipped the main course. Shenanigan's reopened in August after a hiatus for Convention Center construction, so we thought we'd check things out. The restaurant's low brick building is dwarfed now by its massive half-finished neighbor; getting to the parking lot requires careful sign-reading, and a breadcrumb trail for the return trip might not be a bad idea. But the familiar favorites are back on the menu. Add a full-bodied red wine and the sun setting over the Spokane River, and we hit satisfaction with nary an entr & eacute;e in sight. -- AC

Ann - Firecracker Salmon Rolls ($10) & r & We'd gotten a hint about these crispy little packages back at Inlander Central (thanks, Josh), and the real thing didn't disappoint. Resembling old-fashioned English Christmas crackers -- the kind that pull open with a "pop" -- each of the four rolls held a chunk of salmon fillet inside a wonton wrapper, the ends tied up with scallion "ribbons" and the whole bundle deep-fried to golden perfection. The sweet chili dipping sauce jazzed up the otherwise plain and simple fish, while a side of Asian slaw added both color and subtle piquancy, complete with cilantro and a hint of sesame oil.

Suzannne - Peppered Calamari ($11) & r & Sometimes with appetizers, expectations are completely upended. As we admired the view of the river framed by the weeping willow at its edge and settled on a best-two-out-of-three scheme -- fried calamari, salmon firecrackers and Maryland crab cakes. To our considerable surprise, the heaping platter o' calamari, which struck the eye as the epitome of breaded beige cuisine, turned out to be the winner, undaunted by the prettier contestants. Though the beige was relieved only by yellow aioli and numerous pepperoncini strewn about like pale green confetti, the peppers added a tangy bite to the little fried rings. Caveat Eator: "appetizer" is a misnomer here, as one $11 platter could easily satisfy even two appetites.

Anne - Maryland Crab Cakes ($14) & r & Really, what can be better than a great crab cake? The moist center, bursting with crab flavor, and crisp, golden brown exterior can happily combine with any number of dipping sauces. At Shenanigan's, the Maryland crab cakes ($14) were touted by our server as one of her favorites, so it was an easy choice. Three smallish crab cakes arrived on an impressive bed of greens, mingled with a spiced corn and black bean salsa and served with a chipotle remoulade. While the greens were tasty enough, the crab cakes were listless, the exterior not quite crispy and lacking that pan-fried quality. Inside, the shreds of crabmeat were a bit dry, and seemed too blended with crumbs, with nary a big lump of succulent crabmeat to be found.

Latah Bistro * 4241 S. Cheney-Spokane Rd. * 838-8338 & r & Our intrepid rhyming trio next tripped out to the fast-growing southwest corner of Spokane and the Latah Bistro, just coming up on its first anniversary. Yes, it's across the parking lot from Tidyman's, but once inside we forgot all about the mundane supermarket world. The warm and welcoming d & eacute;cor felt urbane yet comfortable, with the chefs working in the open kitchen behind the bar. Our server made some great suggestions and remained attentive through our one-item-at-a-time ordering. Here, we expanded our definition of appetizers to include salads and anything else that could be split three ways. We're calling our new diet plan the "Skip the Middle" diet -- wine, a first course (or three), then coffee and dessert. It's sure to be a hit. -- AC

Ann - G.A.S.P. Pizza ($14) & r & The Latah Bistro's pizza offerings, all baked in the wood-fired oven, are the right size to be an entr & eacute;e for one or an appetizer for three or four. The name is an acronym of the star ingredients -- garlic, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto -- but it also describes the sound made by each of us after the first bite. The thin crust balanced a crisp exterior with a just-chewy-enough bread. A light red sauce, redolent with ripe tomato, laid the foundation and creamy mozzarella -- the kind that oozes and stretches when melted -- topped it off. It's another example of the glories of garlic, olive oil and warm, fresh bread. But don't forget to save room for pumpkin bread pudding!

Suzanne - Chili Lime Ahi Salad ($10) & r & Even on a chilly Sunday evening in autumn, Latah Bistro is a good place to be. We took a liberal view of the notion of appetizers, wandering from the "first bites" group and sharing items from the "greens," "pizza" and dessert categories. It was happy grazing, indeed, and there was nary a bad bite the whole evening. Because I'm a fan of all things ahi, though, my favorite was the chili-lime ahi salad -- tuna served raw over mixed greens with warm chili-lime dressing. It delighted the eye as much as the palate. If you're suspicious of raw fish, you could probably ask the accommodating folks at Latah to pan-sear it for you, but I thought it was perfect just as it was. Note to self: Do chocolate sampler next time!

Anne - Spedieni, Hot & amp; Sour Shrimp ($5, $7) & r & The server warned us that the hot and sour shrimp with Napa cabbage and sesame seeds was not a very big portion, but I couldn't resist. Four prawns were arranged on a bed of sliced Napa cabbage with a pretty swirl of balsamic reduction and a basil-flavored oil. The prawns were oh-so-tasty: perfectly tender, with just the right touch of sweet and sour. Since the prawns were a small portion, I also indulged in the Spedieni. Here four slices of a baguette were warmed with big slabs of smoked mozzarella between each slice, and the whole thing was topped with a roasted garlic relish -- pine nuts and garlicky olive oil. This caused us all to sigh with delight, marveling over the seemingly endless possibilities of garlic, olive oil and fine bread.

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

June 14-20
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