February 3, 1995 in Seven

Anaconda Grille’s Ambience As Delectable As The Food

By The Spokesman-Review

Diners get an idea about what to expect before they ever poke their heads in the door at the Anaconda Grille. The parking lot reeks of garlic.

Ah, the sweet smell of success. At least at any Italian restaurant worth its salt.

The Anaconda Grille, which opened last fall in the East Central neighborhood of Spokane, is the brainchild of Kevin Gilmore and Gina Lanza. Avid diners might remember Lanza as the woman who started Amore restaurant in 1990. She later sold Amore and that restaurant is now history, leaving Lanza free to open what she calls a friendly, neighborhood joint. (She had agreed not to open a competing restaurant when she sold Amore and spent several years on the West Side developing a pasta and sauce business.)

Inside, the Anaconda Grille is softly lighted and inviting. The space has been home to several restaurants, but never has it felt so much like a home. Your funky aunt’s home, maybe.

The dozen or so tables are surrounded by deep green walls, and everywhere are whimsical touches that are fun to look at. Take the display case bathed in red neon light, for instance. It’s crammed with angel figurines, old cowboy toys, antique postcards and photos. It’s kitschy but not cluttered.

The work of area artists also is prominently displayed, with pieces changing every six weeks or so.

The Anaconda has such a good feel, I’d probably like it even if the food were lousy.

Fortunately, the creativity shown in creating the atmosphere extends to the menu. Along with standards such as spaghetti marinara and eggplant Parmesan are some wonderfully offbeat preparations.

The fettuccine Anaconda ($9.50) comes in a creamy cheese sauce, but it also has grilled chicken and sundried tomatoes. A simple baked chicken breast ($11) arrives on a bed of tiny white beans and slightly wilted spinach with a cumin-spiked butter sauce making for a savory, satisfying dish.

Then there are the pastas that take an Oriental twist. For instance, the Soba Loraine ($9.50) contains the unlikely combination of noodles, spinach, goat cheese, dried figs and grilled yams in a soy plum sauce. I haven’t sampled it, though I’ve heard it’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.

During a recent dinner, our foursome started by sharing a couple of appetizers. A warm seafood salad ($6), which was a nightly special, had a generous helping of tender, tiny clams and grilled mussels in their shells. The bivalves sat on top of mixed greens and slightly melted mozzarella. A balsamic vinegar dressing gave the dish a slightly sweet, smoky quality. The dish was heavenly.

The restaurant’s calamari ($4.50) is some of the tastiest squid around. Instead of the traditional heavy breading, the calamari is lightly sauteed in olive oil, lemon and garlic. The dish also includes shredded red cabbage, which provides a nice, crunchy texture. It’s a delicious reminder of Lanza’s Amore days.

The starters were ample enough to share and made for a nice prelude to the salads that come with every meal. A dozen different types of greens give the salad a nutty, pleasantly bitter flavor.

The memorable evening gained momentum with the impressive entrees. I ordered the unusual take on pasta primavera ($9.50), which featured a slightly spicy peanut sauce over roasted veggies and Oriental noodles. I appreciated the different flavors, though I thought the peanut sauce could have been a bit lighter so the vegetables would be vibrant. In the veggie mix, I loved the pieces of yam and yellow squash, but the bits of briny calamati olives seemed out of sync with the rest of the dish.

Other diners at the table enjoyed the eggplant Parmesan ($8.75), the spaghetti puttanesca ($8.75) and the evening’s featured entree, roast duck ($15).

The duck was roasted in the oven, basted in a sauce containing Greek olives, Italian figs, capers, plum sauce and soy sauce. Duck is usually a tough dish to pull off. Often, the meat is overdone and the skin is fatty, but Lanza avoided this by grilling the bird briefly before serving.

The eggplant was not deep-fried, but rather oven-roasted and then baked with a zesty marinara and a liberal dose of cheese.

A blast of crushed red peppers in the first bite of puttanesca nearly had one of our party in tears, but after mixing the pasta up with the tomatobased sauce, capers, olives and anchovies, the spiciness was tempered and the ingredients worked in harmony. The dish deserves bonus points for the subtle use of anchovies.

Throughout the meal, our basket of freshly baked bread was regularly replenished. Lanza makes the soft, tasty bread daily and it often arrives at the table still warm from the oven.

Desserts are made by Karen Hansen at Take the Cake, one of the most talented pastry chefs in Spokane. We sampled a dense chocolate mousse cake, an incredibly light huckleberry pie and a tangy lemon tart. All were first-rate.

In keeping with the Anaconda Grille’s comfortable, neighborhood feel, the service was friendly and helpful. We were there on a Saturday night and the place was packed. Still, no one had to wait for his or her food.

At this point in most reviews, I would write about the restaurant’s wine list. The Anaconda Grille doesn’t have one.

Because of its proximity to a school, the restaurant is having great difficulty getting a liquor license. Even though it has been a good addition to the neighborhood. Even though thay had planned to be open only for dinner, long after school was dismissed.

However, diners have the option of purchasing a banquet permit for $10 at a Washington state liquor store and bringing their own bottle to the restaurant.

xxxx Anaconda Grille Address: S510 Freya Phone: 533-0064 Meals: Eclectic Italian Average Prices: $8.50-$12.50 Days, hours: WednesdaysSaturdays, 5-10 p.m., lunch service begins Tuesday and will be offered 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., espresso is served weekday mornings Alcohol: no Smoking: no Reservations: yes Credit cards: MC, V Personal checks: yes

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