To some, autumn means crisp mornings, raking leaves into the street (don’t do that this year!) and the delicious anticipation of ski season.
But for those of us who use our tastebuds to monitor the change in weather, fall is all about colorful, creamy squash, tart apple cider and savory stews.
Several area restaurants have revamped their menus to incorporate the freshest fall flavors.
At Patsy Clark’s, where new owners are making plans to update the kitchen and spiff up the dining rooms, chef Michael Scroggie has already eased into the winter menu, offering new appetizers such as a white cheddar and vegetable strudel served with a tomato coulis and pesto sauce and a blackened calamari steak cooled by a creamy butter sauce.
New entrees include a chicken breast stuffed with carmelized elephant garlic and wild mushrooms, an herb-cheddar, dumpling-topped pork tenderloin ragout (a fancy way of saying stew) and a grilled ginger duck breast served with plum sauce.
Fresh sheet items change daily and include dishes such as albacore tuna, veal tenderloin and Greek fettucine studded with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and feta cheese.
Many of the old favorites - prime rib, the President Bush steak and escargot - remain on the menu.
Also, a new wine steward, Eric Cook, has been hired to build up the once-considerable selection in the cellar.
Lunch and dinner menus at Fugazzi have shifted into cold weather mode. Some of chef Michael Waliser’s new starters include a spinach salad made with organic greens, thinly sliced pears, goat cheese and smoked bacon and dressed in a honey-sesame vinaigrette, a grilled portabella mushroom and his unbeatable sauteed calamari.
During a recent dinner I savored the Harvest Linguine, one of several new vegetarian entrees on the menu. It consisted of pasta mixed with small chunks of acorn squash, roasted red peppers and spinach that were sauteed in a brown-butter sauce and seasoned with sage and sherry vinegar. I’ll be back to check out the winter risotto with grilled mushrooms and the broccoli penne tossed with garlic, potatoes, red peppers and pine nuts along with feta and Parmesan cheeses.
Other new dishes include a Jamaican-style pork tenderloin, pan-seared lamb chops and chicken Santa Fe served with black bean cake, grilled veggies and pineapple-pear salsa.
At Luna, there are some delicious holdovers from summer, including the pizza with carmelized onions, black beans and goat cheese that’s topped with a zippy ginger slaw.
New dishes created by chef Brett Fontana include a wild mushroom risotto (do I detect a trend?), pork chops with a whiskey maple glaze and chipotle linguine with caramel-glazed chicken.
No mundane rice pilaf side dishes at Luna, either. Noteworthy accompaniments include scalloped potatoes, creamy sage polenta, butternut squash puree with sauteed spinach and a mazithera quesadilla served with green tomato chutney.
Dishes designed to warm have been added to Upstairs Downtown’s fall dinner menu. Karla Graves has come up with a winter squash soup for starters. New entrees include a pork loin chop baked with Jonathan apples, Walla Walla onions and hard cider, a tenderloin topped with a wild mushroom sauce and roasted lamb served with a pepper-port sauce.
But the best development at this romantic venue is the new luscious dessert menu. Talented pastry chef Kathy Scheibner has cooked up decadent creations such as a chocolate ginger torte with an orange-saffron sauce, drunken berries over sweetened goat cheese in a delicate phyllo pastry cup and a nutty, bittersweet chocolate caramel tart. Anyone familiar with Scheibner’s work (she was the original pastry chef at Fugazzi) knows that half the fun is her elaborate presentation. The desserts look almost too good to eat.
At Spokane’s only smoke-free, kid-friendly, upscale brewpub, several new items - including a buffalo ribeye - have joined the existing lineup.
In addition to an extensive new children’s menu (good luck trying to get the little rascals to eat sauteed mushrooms), new dishes at Birkebeiner Brewery include a blackened swordfish sandwich, a vegetarian stir-fry and fiery chicken enchiladas with a habanero-bean sauce.
The buffalo ribeye steak is seasoned with Cajun spices and broiled. It’s topped with a mushroom duxelle (deeply flavored, finely chopped, sauteed mushrooms), thin sliced ham and smoked provolone cheese.
Last week, I harped about having to pay extra for bread at Cucina!Cucina!
General manager Rick Paulson called to say the restaurant recently changed that policy, becoming the only Cucina in the chain to offer complimentary bread with entrees.
Paulson explained that not all servers have been conveying that information to diners.
“That’s the one big negative we’ve heard from customers, so we’re trying to fix that,” Paulson said.
Diehard fans of French-style Louisiana cuisine used to make a culinary pilgrimage to Wenatchee to gorge on etouffe and the like at the New Orleans Kitchen. But that funky little spot closed down several years ago after building owners wouldn’t renew the lease.
Recently, however, chef-owner Jim Swicker relocated to the scenic Methow Valley. His Cafe Bienville draws diners from all around Eastern Washington. They rave about the satisfying, creative meals and the award-winning wine list.
Cafe Bienville is open for dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays. For reservations, call (509) 923-2228.
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