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Southwest Cuisine Making Mark On Inland Northwest Dining Scene

Fri., June 2, 1995

Adjust your culinary compass. Southwest cooking has arrived in the Inland Northwest.

At least two Spokane restaurants have just turned up the heat with the savory, slightly spicy flavors of the American desert. (For the uninitiated, Southwest cuisine leans toward Mexican-type dishes, but with more vivid flavors and loads of black beans.)

The new Arizona Steakhouse specializes in beef and all sorts of fajitas. They serve sizzling fajitas in beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and veggie versions.

The menu also features prime rib and five different steaks, ranging from a 10-ounce New York for $11.95 to a specially seasoned 24-ounce cut for $21.95.

Other menu selections include fish tacos, a ceviche tostada, several chicken preparations and quesadilla with either grilled vegetables, chicken, beef or cheese.

The Arizona Steakhouse is located just across the street from the Opera House - a location that has proved to be bad luck for several previous eateries. (Years ago, it was Henny’s, then a Chapter 11 Fish House, then the Boulevard Park and most recently, The Tandoor.)

Partners Sam and Tim O’Doherty, Terry Best and Shannon O’Doherty - who also run the Irish Grille just down the block - have done a dandy job of creating a Southwest-style atmosphere with loads of stucco and pale desert colors.

At a recent dinner, I was impressed with a burrito ($8.95) stuffed with grilled chicken, black beans, peppers and cheese and then covered with a zippy red sauce. A firecracker shrimp ($12.95) was also enjoyable with lots of prawns sauteed with peppers and onions. What was really nice, though, was the unusual side dish offerings including sweet potato (yum) and a black bean and corn relish. Each entree comes with a choice of two side dishes.

The Arizona Steakhouse is open for dinner daily. Phone 455-8206 for reservations.

Less than a mile away, Ripples - at Cavanaugh’s River Inn - has completely revamped its menu, dropping staid favorites such as prime rib in favor of somewhat trendier fare. That’s a pretty bold move for motel dining.

And the place deserves points for a creative menu.

For lunch, there are a half-dozen salads with intriguing ingredients (pickled cactus, anyone?) In addition to a Caesar with a wood-roasted chicken breast, salad selections include a ratatouille rainbow salad served with a tomato and artichoke dressing, a Texas chicken salad with a chili-cider vinaigrette and mixed greens tossed with fire-roasted poblano chiles and fiery choriza sausage.

A new wood-fired oven situated out on the patio churns out some interesting pizzas. The blue cornmeal pizza is topped with fresh wild mushrooms and asadero cheese, which is similar to Parmesan. The pizza has an exotic flavor, making it a must for fungi fans. Other offerings include a four-cheese pizza and a pie topped with brie and papaya.

At dinner, an extensive selection of seafood dishes is offered. Included are lobster tacos, Texas blue crab cakes, ahi tuna with a creamy avocado sauce, ling cod with roasted red pepper sauce and prawns stuffed with goat cheese. Chicken entrees range from a roasted white meat marinated in tequila and lime juice and served with a papaya and pineapple salsa to a broiled breast topped with a black bean sauce.

At a recent lunch, I liked a chunkystyle gazpacho and the blue cornmeal pizza with wild mushrooms, especially after I doused it with the green Tabasco that sits on every table. But I thought the citrus-based dressing on the Southwest salad was bland and the jalapeno popper appetizer was too much cheese and not enough pepper.

Ripples, which offers the best outdoor dining spot in Spokane, is open daily for lunch and dinner.

An oasis on Northwest Boulevard

The folks at Pizza Oasis are determined to offer a gourmet alternative to fast food pizza.

Located adjacent to the Marrakesh restaurant, Pizza Oasis features pies with such tasty toppings as wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and smoked chicken. A dozen different pizzas range from a seafood-laden pie with shrimp, smoked salmon or crab and capers to a decadent four cheese pizza with mozzarella, brie, goat cheese and cheddar.

Pizzas are available in small, medium and large sizes, starting at $6.50 and topping out at $16.75.

Deli sandwiches, pasta, focaccia and salads are also offered for takeout and delivery.

The menu sounded mouthwatering, but I’ll have to wait until I have more time to try it. When I phoned in an order, I was told it would be at least a 45-minute wait. The franchise pizza joints might not offer trendy toppings, but at least they can crank them out in a hurry.

Pizza Oasis is located at 2008 Northwest Blvd. The phone number is 327-1100. They are open from 11:30 a.m. until 10 pm. weekdays and from 4 until 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Diners elusive at dinner

Unfortunately for fans of Fery Haghigi’s culinary skills, Au Croissant serves its last supper Saturday night.

Despite serving exceptional food, Au Croissant never drew enough diners for the evening meal.

The owners have a kettle full of theories about why dinner never took off. At the top of the list was the difficulty overcoming the image of being strictly a lunch place and a bakery. Many people never realized that Au Croissant served dinner. Now, it’s too late.

It’s a mystery to me why some restaurants with mediocre food thrive and others that offer something special languish from lack of attention.

The lesson here is clear: Get out and support your favorite restaurant.

A meaty anecdote

I recently took a friend out to lunch at Cucina! Cucina! and insisted he order the eggplant panini, a wonderful sandwich with smoked mozzarella, marinara sauce and sauteed eggplant.

He took several bites before discovering that they had served him a chicken sandwich instead. Because he hadn’t eaten meat in 20 years, this was an unpleasant surprise.

The meal was not a complete catastrophe, though. Our waitress apologized sincerely and quickly brought out a new veggie version. Also, the manager came over and apologized and said the sandwich was on the house.

Now, that’s the kind of customer service you can sink your teeth into.

Small bites

Senor Froggy’s is expanding onto the South Hill. A new location is nearing completion just south of 29th on Regal.

The former Rax downtown will soon reopen as Cal’s. Its sign touts bagels, salads and sandwiches.

The Anaconda Grill has discontinued its lunch service so the owners can spend more time with their kids this summer.

, DataTimes

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