January 20, 1995 in Seven

Swan’s Landing Needs Some Entree-Level Improvement

Leslie Kelly Staff Writer

Architecturally speaking, Swan’s Landing is a delicious piece of work.

The large building on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille just outside Sandpoint has the comfortable feeling of an old ski lodge. The dining room and bar have mammoth fireplaces with rock chimneys that climb to the restaurant’s 38-foot ceiling. The smooth stones used to create the fireplace’s facade come from the nearby Pack River.

In summer, diners who sit on the inviting patio can study the intriguing copper and stone “vertical stream” designed by Sandpoint sculptor Myles Hougen.

Owners are rightfully proud of these achievements, detailing them in a background sheet slipped into the menu. It’s the first time I can recall being better informed about the facility than about the restaurant’s food.

Swan’s location and ambiance make it an ideal spot for drinks and appetizers, something I have done a couple of times before recently visiting for dinner.

Unfortunately, my meal was disappointing, though the evening started on a promising note.

A blazing fire melted away the memory of the winter storm blowing outside. The dim candlelight provided a romantic setting. And a guitarist played soft music.

Two of us opted to split an order of sauteed mushrooms as an appetizer.

Our mushrooms didn’t arrive until dinner - an oversight for which our courteous waiter apologized profusely and took off our bill.

They were worth the wait. Whole button mushrooms were lightly sauteed - my dining partner thought they were underdone. I appreciated that they weren’t soggy. The subtle sherry butter sauce they were finished in was a hit. The only false step was the parmesan cheese on top that hadn’t properly melted. It didn’t add much to the dish.

Other first courses include calamari, shrimp cocktail and beef skewers served with a spicy peanut sauce. I had previously oohed and aahed over the restaurant’s smoked salmon starter - thin slices of Northwest salmon served with bagels, cream cheese, chopped red onion and capers. But the substantial portion is more of a meal than starter. It’s a good candidate for an appetizer outing or to split among a large party.

Because the appetizer arrived out of sequence, we had first enjoyed a simple green salad and a cup of soup. (Diners have their choice between the two with their meal.)

The soup, a seafood bisque, was rich and creamy with a fine flavor. I wasn’t even put off by the faux crab in the mix. It went well with the tiny shrimp and vegetables that crowded the cup.

The main courses were a letdown, however.

I ordered the Idaho trout, which was butterflied and pan-fried in a semolina flour. The fish was properly cooked and nicely presented, but bland. Some might argue that’s the beauty of trout. And I’ll concede that farm-raised trout should never be compared to the fish plucked from the stream and pan-fried over a campfire.

However, the key in creating a winning trout dish is having an interesting complement to the fish. And the sweet corn relish that topped the trout sounded interesting, but the corn wasn’t sweet. It tasted like it came out of a can. It was mixed with diced red peppers, so it was pretty. But looks aren’t everything.

In contrast, the side dishes were superb. A mixture of veggies - Dining out, zucchini, summer squash, carrots and pea pods - were tender-crisp. And the rice pilaf had a robust flavor with nice chewy texture provided by calypso beans.

My companion ordered one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, prime rib. The menu trumpets its certified Angus beef, which is supposed to indicate a high level of quality. The sizeable cut arrived medium rare, as ordered, but it didn’t have the rich, meaty flavor you expect of fine beef.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the high voltage horseradish, the meat wouldn’t have had any flavor. And if you’re a restaurant that specializes in steak and seafood, your prime rib should be exceptional.

Other main course options include halibut, salmon, rock shrimp, scallops and prawns on the seafood side. Filet mignon and New York steak are among the turf offerings. Roast duckling and a chicken dish with scallops are also served. Vegetarians will find only one choice, a veggie plate prepared either steamed or stirfried.

Dinner ended on a sweet note, though. The desserts, all made on premises, were outstanding.

A cheesecake was wonderfully smooth and creamy, with the traditional lemony tang. It is highly recommended.

A cobbler was described on the menu as being made with seasonal fruit. I expected, maybe, an apple cobbler. But the choice that evening was cherry.

Even though the cherries were canned, I loved the dish. It came in its own individual ramekin and was topped with a slightly sweet flaky crust. It was served with a vanilla custard sauce, though I would have preferred vanilla ice cream.

Another bright spot on the menu is the well-constructed wine list. It’s fairly short, but has such notable selections as chardonnay from several of my favorite producers including ZD and Trefethen in California’s Napa Valley and Woodward Canyon, one of Washington’s most-respected vintners. Other highlights include a hard-to-find Leonetti cabernet and Oregon’s best pinot noir, the Domaine Drouhin. The markup on wines seem reasonable, ranging from $13 to $45. Wines by the glass are around $4.

There’s also a number of Northwest microbrews on tap and a good selection of imports.

I would love to give Swan’s Landing a rave. There are many things to recommend it. By turning up the quality of the entrees, Swan’s Landing could easily become one of the region’s premier destination dining spots.

xxxx Swan’s Landing Address: 1480 Lakeshore Drive, Sandpoint Phone: (208) 265-2000 Meals: Steaks, seafood Prices: $12.95 to $18.95 Days, hours: 4-9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and a limited menu served Sunday evenings. Alcohol: Full bar Smoking: In the lounge and in the two private dining rooms Reservations: yes Credit cards: AE, MC, V Personal checks: yes

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