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Restaurant Is A Grand Dining Scene Addition

People used to gripe about the slim pickings on Spokane’s restaurant scene, but no more. It seems as if a new spot opens at least every month.

These new eateries work hard to establish a niche in an increasingly competitive field. Some appeal to the budget-conscious, while others struggle to make their mark with imaginative food.

Diners will find the best of both worlds at Cafe Grand, a cozy restaurant that has taken up residence in the space once occupied by Amore. The food at Cafe Grand is creative without being outrageous and meals are reasonably priced. It seems like a sure-fire recipe for success.

Cafe Grand may be relatively new - it opened in December - but the owners are old hands in the food service biz. Jim and Terri Adolfson have been working in restaurants since their teens. Their last venture was the popular Adolfson’s at the Glover Mansion.

Looking for a more casual setting, the Adolfsons moved into the space on Grand Boulevard, next door to Baskin-Robbins and across from Lindaman’s.

They made some subtle changes in the small dining room. A huge poster of the Manhattan skyline dominates one wall. Tableclothes are vinyl, but there’s soft candlelight during dinner. One of the nicest new touches is the panel of burgundy curtains that effectively blocks out the view of the busy street while leaving enough window to showcase the neighborhood’s most striking feature - the Cathedral of St. John.

The menu is a mixture of steak, chicken, pasta and a few stir-fries. There is also a daily fresh sheet that concentrates on seafood and a blueplate special that focuses on old-fashioned dishes such as meatloaf, chicken fried steak and pork chops.

The offerings will change seasonally, with lighter, springtime fare due to be added next week. Some of the new entrees include garlic roasted prawns, prime rib, ribeye steak with chile butter and grilled chicken fettuccine with sundried tomato pesto. Appetizers will also join the new lineup. The core of the menu will remain the same, though.

During a recent dinner, our foursome sampled dishes from different sections of the menu.

Two of us opted for the seafood special, a marlin steak with pineapple salsa ($12). Though the fish was a bit overdone and slightly dry, the salsa worked as an effective salve. It was tangy and sweet at the same time with chunks of pineapple, red onions and peppers.

All meals start with a choice of two types of salad (a Caesar and the house salad) and two types of soup, a fisherman’s chowder or the soup d’jour. The Adolfsons make all their soups, sauces and salad dressings from scratch.

The house salad - a mixture of red leaf lettuce, tomatoes, mandarin oranges, slices of apples and mushrooms dressed in a blueberry-raspberry yogurt vinaigrette - was a bright spot, a refreshing change of pace.

On a couple of visits, I had mixed luck with the soup. A broccolicheddar soup was rich, creamy and well-seasoned, though some might find it a bit salty. But an Italian vegetable I ordered at dinner was served lukewarm and the pasta in it had turned to mush. It was a small disappointment, but the kind of detail that diners remember.

Soups and salads are accompanied by the delightfully tangy sourdough bread from the Coeur d’Alene French Baking Co. Our pleasant waitress promptly refilled our basket several times, without us even asking.

In fact, the service on several visits was unfailingly cheerful, without being intrusive, and thoroughly efficient.

During dinner, other guests were impressed with the fireworks chicken stir-fry and the salmon in phyllo, one of the Adolfsons’ signature dishes.

The salmon dish looked like an elegant enchilada. The fish was wrapped in the flaky phyllo dough and baked. It was served with a zippy lemon-caper sauce. The combination was a knockout.

The fireworks chicken stir-fry lived up to its spicy moniker. Chunks of chicken were tossed with rice and a potent blend of red pepper flakes, Tabasco sauce and curry powder. The combination provided a kick that could clear your sinuses. The addition of mango chutney tempered the fire, but the person who ordered it found the chutney’s sweetness tiresome about halfway through the dish. The chutney might have been more effective served on the side.

For lunch, the offerings are similar with slightly smaller portions and lower prices.

On a recent afternoon, I ordered a vegetarian lasagna, which came overflowing with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, zucchini, three types of cheese and, oddly enough, water chestnuts. I enjoyed the pasta portion of the dish, but was overwhelmed by all the other stuff. I realize, however, that many diners would appreciate the generous helpings of veggies, ricotta, Parmesan and jack cheeses, especially at dinner. It was just a little much for lunch.

My dining companion ordered the London broil. It was served with a peppercorn sauce, which packed a spicy wallop. He also raved about the quality of the meat, though it wasn’t quite as pink as he had expected when he ordered it medium rare. But that didn’t lessen his enthusiasm for the meal.

A short wine list is due to get more selections soon. Those offered were good choices (Arbor Crest sauvignon blanc and Waterbrook chardonnay, for example) and were fairly priced. A bottle of French champagne sold for under $30, not significantly more than the retail price.

Desserts are the domain of Terri Adolfson, and they lean toward the rich side. The raspberry chocolate cheesecake was too heavy for my taste, though my 4-year-old gobbled it up. A low-fat caramel-apple cheesecake hit the spot, however. It tasted entirely too creamy to be called low-fat, but the waitress assured me it was made with nonfat sour cream and low-fat cream cheese.

Cafe Grand is a welcome addition to the Spokane restaurant scene, a nice neighborhood place with a solid lineup of imaginative preparations.

xxxx Cafe Grand Address: 1228 S. Grand Blvd. Meals: Fresh Northwest with Italian and Oriental influences Prices: lunch, $6-$9; dinner, $9-$14 Days, hours: Monday 11:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: no Reservations: yes Credit cards: V, MC, Disc Personal checks: yes

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