1401 N. Fourth St., Coeur d'Alene
Executive Chef Viljo Basso
About the chef: "After growing up in restaurants and doing just about every type of eatery, my personal specialty would have to be Asian food, in particular Japanese. I am going on 28 years of cooking Japanese food now and I think that influence shows itself in all the food that I make. I love that you can get complex flavors out of very simple ingredients: soy, mirin, ginger, onion, garlic, and a simple dashi can make so many things."
Featured dish: Vegan tomato poke (by request only), $10
How it's made: Avocado is sliced thin and arranged into a ring, into which is placed a salad of mixed greens topped by tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, green onion, wakame (seaweed), takuan (pickled daikon radish), salt and pepper, soy and house-made togarashi spice. It's garnished with chive oil and micro greens.
Chef's thoughts: "Over the past several years we have noticed more vegetarian requests and have been playing around with different versions of our menu items," Basso says. Although not on the menu, this is Basso's go-to dish for people requesting vegetarian or vegan items.
"Where we live, we are blessed that we have farmers bringing in fresh organic vegetables, which we get to play with. The tomatoes give it a sweet and acidic flavor. You get the creaminess from the avocado and the brightness from the onions, a little earthy from the garlic and 'umami' from the soy marinade that everything is mixed with. To top it off, the chive oil gives it a nice touch of green, earthy onion flavor. When we are plating, we always take into consideration the visual elements of the items of the dish we are trying to create."
Our thoughts: There's something about the contrast of reds, golds and green that's really appealing, reminding me of both summer and the transition to fall. The dish looks small — a tidy stack of vegetables — yet is surprisingly filling as you unpack it from the ring of avocado. The avocado and tomato, when eaten together, mimic some of the mouthfeel of eating poke, yet lacking significant protein, this doesn't feel like a substitute and really stands alone as a tasty dish. The dressing, including the togarashi, pulls it all together and gives just enough heat to cut the avocado and balance the tomatoes which, as an added bonus, vary in variety from acidic to sweet to mild.
Chef's local dining recommendations: Franklin's Hoagies (501 N. Fourth St., Coeur d'Alene) and Honey Eatery (317 E. Sherman Ave., CdA), 315 Martinis & Tapas (315 E. Wallace Ave., CdA), Porch Public House (1658 E. Miles Ave., Hayden), Ruins (825 N. Monroe) and Gordy's Sichuan Cafe (501 E. 30th Ave.)