July 28, 1995 in Seven

Ripples Good, But Needs To Smooth Out A Few Waves

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The new Southwest-style menu at Ripples sounded so promising. Too bad the execution is uneven at this pretty riverside restaurant.

Southwestern cuisine draws on some of the cooking techniques and ingredients used in Mexican food, but it’s less spicy. Dishes use ingredients like black beans, cilantro and peppers to evoke sunny flavors of the American desert.

At Ripples, some of the innovative choices include pizzas made with blue cornmeal crust, ahi tuna with an avocado cream sauce and a steak slathered with chipolte pepper sauce. There are also meal-size salads tossed with creative touches such as pickled cactus and jicama. A Southwest Caesar used tortilla chips instead of croutons.

The problem is that many of these dishes didn’t live up to their mouthwatering descriptions. One entree, a lobster taco, was the worst dish I’ve ordered in recent memory.

It is possible to have a good meal at Ripples, if you make discerning choices.

Our first dinner got off to a great start.

The patio, on a quiet stretch of the Spokane River, is a primo spot. Every table has a fine view of the water. Surprisingly, there’s not much traffic noise from the nearby Division Street bridge.

On the appetizer menu, I liked the kick of the red pepper-rubbed prawns ($5.95), which were served with a zesty cocktail sauce.

A grilled brie and papaya quesadilla ($5.75) was an unusual blending of flavors that worked. The sweetness of the fruit offered a nice contrast to the saltiness of the cheese, though I wished there was more papaya on the toasted tortilla.

I also enjoyed the gazpacho ($1.95 for a cup). The chilled, tomato-based soup was filled with crunchy bits of cucumber, peppers and onions. Lime juice gave it a lift. If you’re a fat-gram counter, have them hold the sour cream garnish.

The only disappointment among the starters was the jalapeno poppers ($4.95). These are jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and then deep fried, but they wimped out in the pepper department. I only tasted the cheese.

Choosing the main courses was a little more problematic.

During one dinner, I ordered the lobster tacos ($14.95), which were described as lobster sauteed with mushrooms, red and green onions and spices topped with a saffron sauce and caviar.

OK, so where was the lobster? For $15, I expect chunks of the succulent crustacean, but found only tiny shreds of meat among the mushrooms.

And it was not a taco. A taco is something you can ostensibly pick up and eat out of hand. This mixture was rolled in a flour tortilla and served like a burrito. What’s the point of calling it a taco?

That probably wouldn’t have burned me up except the whole dish had a funky, fishy taste that was so strong, it permeated the vegetables served on the side.

Meanwhile, my companion was pleased with his ahi tuna steak ($15.50), which was served medium rare just as he requested. The tasty, firm-fleshed fish was topped with a rich avocado cream sauce and served atop some potent garlicky sauce. The accompanying cheese-coated red potatoes were a first-rate side dish and the seasonal vegetables were nicely prepared - well-seasoned and still crunchy.

My partner also made the right choice on our return visit. A top sirloin with chipolte sauce ($14.50) proved to be the best dish we sampled. The robust flavor of the meat was accentuated by the exotic, slightly sweet chipolte, which is one of the trendiest ingredients going these days. It’s simply a smoked jalapeno, but it adds an usual bite to sauces and soups. I’ve even seen chipolte used as an ingredient in beer.

I tried a pizza built on a blue cornmeal crust covered with roasted red pepper sauce and shrimp ($12.95). Once again, it was a good idea that just didn’t pan out. The cornmeal crust was flat-tasting and doughy. The red pepper sauce was bland, and the tiny cocktail shrimp wilted while cooking in the woodfired pizza oven. A dose of Cholula hot sauce, which is on every table, helped liven up the pizza.

A pumpkin cheesecake ($3.95) helped ease the meal’s shortcomings. It might sound like an odd combination, but the distinct, kind-of-earthy flavor of the pumpkin added a nice quality to the creamy dessert. The rich treat arrived in a pool of chocolate sauce.

There are other things to recommend Ripples. It offers a super kid’s menu with a half dozen choices under $3. Also, the servers during both our meals seemed eager to please, though one waiter seemed a little green as he struggled to open our wine and then told us we needed to let the wine breathe. Thanks, kid, but it can breathe just fine in my glass.

Next time, I’ll probably go back for a bottle of wine and appetizers. The wine prices are the lowest in Spokane, close to what you’d pay for a bottle in a supermarket. For instance, the reliable Waterbrook chardonnay is 10 bucks. The Latah Creek chenin blanc - a good match for some of the spicy dishes - is just $7.50. Red wine lovers will find Arbor Crest merlot for $11.95 and Caterina’s vino da tavola, a slightly spicy wine made with lemberger grapes, is $7.

I applaud Cavanaugh’s efforts in trying something unusual in their dining room. I’m rooting for them to bump the quality level on some of the menu items.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: RIPPLES AT CAVANAUGH’S RIVER INN Address: 700 N. Division, 326-5577 Meals: Steaks, seafood, pasta and pizza with a Southwestern twist Prices: lunch from $5.95 to $8.50; dinner ala carte entrees from $11.95 to $18.95. Days, hours: Daily from 6:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Dinner is served from 5 until 10 p.m. Alcohol: full bar Smoking: non-smoking section, but smoking is allowed on the patio Reservations: yes Credit cards: MC, V, AE, DISC, DC Personal checks: yes

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, RESTAURANT REVIEW - Dining Out

This sidebar appeared with the story: RIPPLES AT CAVANAUGH’S RIVER INN Address: 700 N. Division, 326-5577 Meals: Steaks, seafood, pasta and pizza with a Southwestern twist Prices: lunch from $5.95 to $8.50; dinner ala carte entrees from $11.95 to $18.95. Days, hours: Daily from 6:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Dinner is served from 5 until 10 p.m. Alcohol: full bar Smoking: non-smoking section, but smoking is allowed on the patio Reservations: yes Credit cards: MC, V, AE, DISC, DC Personal checks: yes

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, RESTAURANT REVIEW - Dining Out


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