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Palate Ballot Shows Readers’ Choices Run Gastronomical Gamut

The readers have spoken in our unofficial palate ballot.

However, just 20 people responded to a call to vote for their favorite Spokane restaurant on the heels of my recent Top 10 list. (That must mean everyone else agreed with me.)

One restaurant came out on top with the majority of callers.

Matthew Anderson said it best when he called to rave about Luigi’s. “I was just having lunch at my favorite restaurant, Luigi’s, and they told me I should call in and say it was my favorite,” he said.

That message on our Cityline service was followed by a solid list of Luigi’s lovers.

Dale Abendroth-Lenski and her husband Mike eat there several times a week during certain times of the year.

“The service is wonderful. The food is great,” she said. They serve meals continuously so “we can go in there for a late lunch or an early dinner.”

The Lenskis have always enjoyed the gnocchi with marinara sauce (he orders the meat sauce). And they usually end their meal with an ice cream specialty called tortoni.

“They make it there. It’s vanilla ice cream with an almond flavoring, chunks of chocolate and maraschino cherries.”

Also casting votes for Luigi’s were Liz Tucker, Norma Norton, Terry Doan, Christine Corey (who is the lounge manager at downtown Luigi’s) and Kim Richmond (who loves the smoked salmon lasagna).

Other reader favorites ranged from the newest Thai restaurant to a popular downtown institution, Cyrus O’Leary’s.

Dodie Gerding called to praise the family-owned Cafe Roma.

“Our daughter just got married and we had a rehearsal dinner there that was fantastic,” she said. “The owners are wonderful people as well as excellent cooks.”

Three people phoned to extol the virtues of the victuals at Hill’s Someplace Else.

“It’s an outstanding restaurant that does not get a lot of attention,” said Carol Erie.

Jim Nelson enthused about the Irish stew at O’Doherty’s and said that Cyrus O’Leary’s is always good. “And I’m not even Irish,” he said.

Espresso Delizioso’s international menu has impressed Joy McCarthy for years. “I’m really spoiled by them,” she said.

The most enthusiastic report, however, came from Nina Lyman, who called to rave about Taste of Thai, the newest entry into Spokane’s growing Southeast Asian cooking scene.

She gushed: “It’s absolutely fabulous. The spring rolls are good. The phad Thai with shrimp is the best I’ve ever eaten and I’ve eaten Thai food in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The red chicken curry is wonderful and the hot and sour shrimp soup. Oh. Yum, yum, yum, yum. You must try it.”

Thanks to all the budding restaurant reviewers who responded.

Road report

I spent last week noshing in Seattle and discovered a few new gems in a city already overflowing with so many mouthwatering choices.

Flying Fish opened this past summer in the Belltown area (not far from the Pike Street Market) to rave reviews. Chef Christine Keff’s innovative Pacific Rim-style seafood preparations have already received national attention in Bon Appetit magazine. When visiting this stylish dining room, ask to sit upstairs, where you can watch the action in the open kitchen and at the sleek, gorgeous bar.

The menu is heavy on light dishes. Some diners, in fact, never make it out of the starters section. (The menu states that two or three can make a meal.) There’s good reason to dwell on the “small plates.” The smoked shrimp spring roll was heavenly and the Thai crab cakes, made with generous chunks of sweet Dungeness, were so good, I almost ordered another round.

Entrees - changed daily according to what’s fresh - include such exotic choices as Hawaiian ono and a delicate whitefish called escolar. Prices range from $7 to $16.

Flying Fish is definitely the place to be, so reservations are advised. The phone is (206) 728-8595.

On the top of Queen Anne Hill, minutes away from the Seattle Center, the Paragon Bar & Grill offers homey-type food with hip twists. A hearty pot roast is served with garlic mashed potatoes. A chicken pot pie comes with crimini mushrooms and leeks and is topped with a puff pastry crust.

In the cozy, romantically lighted dining room, I was bowled over by my entire meal, starting with the appetizer - huge prawns wrapped in phyllo dough served with a spicy Thai chili sauce - and ending with a peerless pear tart. In between was a perfectly cooked salmon filet intensely flavored with Oriental seasonings.

The Paragon’s chef, Nancy Flume, who used to be at the well-regarded Adriatica, describes her menu as American bistro cooking.

This spot feels so New York when musicians take the stage Sunday through Thursday evenings (and during Sunday brunch) to perform jazz.

The Paragon is located at 2125 Queen Anne Ave. North. The phone is (206) 283-4548.

And, I finally understand what the big fuss was about risotto. I learned this important lesson at the Isabella Ristorante in downtown Seattle near The Bon.

I had never had the arborio rice dish prepared properly, but at Isabella, the knockout wild mushroom risotto had just the right creamy, slightly chewy texture to properly showcase the exotic fungi. A reduced veal stock was drizzled on the perimeter of the plate, giving the dish a rich, elegant flavor.

This lovely restaurant also serves an impressive lineup of traditional Italian favorites including pizzas, pastas and memorable salads. The Panzanilla Mariella, for instance, was a small tower of white beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and garlic croutons in a tangy vinaigrette. It was incredible.

Prices are reasonable, especially at lunch. Reservations are advised for dinner. The phone number is (206) 441-8281.

We eat out more often

The National Restaurant Association is predicting a big year in 1996, with projected sales nationwide of more than $300 billion, up 5 percent from last year. Dining out will account for 44 percent of an average household’s food budget.

The biggest portion of those sales will come from the fast-food industry, which has broadened to include rotisserie chicken stores and coffee bars. And 64 percent of the fast-food sales last year were to-go.

Full-service restaurants are taking a cue from fast food, a recent report said, by emphasizing convenience such as expanded takeout and delivery services.

Small bites

Cal’s has dropped its lineup of bagels - after a money-losing, six-month trial period. The restaurant now serves a variety of sandwiches and a salad bar.

Fugazzi is now closed Mondays but has expanded hours on Saturday to include lunch service.

Brucchi’s has a new location at Northwest Boulevard and Ash.

Gregory’s in Sandpoint has introduced its winter menu, which includes tempting appetizers such as wild mushroom egg rolls and Dungeness crab cakes with chipotle mayonnaise. Entrees range from pizzas and pastas to rack of lamb and steaks.

The Japanese Lunch Box in the Sherwood Mall has added a chicken curry to its mostly stir-fried menu.

, DataTimes