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San Francisco’s Finest Has Nothing On Spokane’s Mizuna

During a recent visit to San Francisco, I ate at the highly hyped bastion of upscale vegetarian cuisine called Greens.

It’s been featured in Gourmet magazine and is the subject of a successful cookbook.

You must call weeks ahead to get a reservation.

But here’s the shocker: I much preferred the creative offerings at Spokane’s first gourmet vegetarian restaurant, Mizuna.

Over the course of several meals, I’ve found Mizuna’s food to be highly seasoned, inventive and beautifully presented. (For the record, I thought the food at Greens was overpriced and underspiced.)

You certainly don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate Mizuna’s delicious lineup of freshly made soups, salads and entrees, which include made-from-scratch pasta.

Many dishes on the menu are vegan, which means they contain no dairy products or eggs. Organic produce is used whenever it’s available.

Mizuna - which is the name of a little-known lettuce - has a sophisticated, big-city atmosphere. The open, airy room is anchored by a display kitchen at the back.

Exposed brick walls surround blond wood tables and a good variety of music fills up the space nicely - played just loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to drown out conversation. On weekends, there’s live entertainment.

Lunch is ordered at the counter and tables fill up around the noon hour, but the kitchen does a laudable job of getting orders out quickly.

Sandwiches are huge and most include a side dish. A friend liked her roasted vegetable ($5.95) sandwich with an herbed artichoke pesto aioli, but said it could be even better if they toasted the bread.

Other sandwiches include a veggie burger topped with a tangy barbecue sauce and a reuben made with tempeh, a chewy fermented soy product. (It’s better than that description might lead you to believe.)

I recommend ordering the salad sampler. For $5.95, I got to try the chilled Thai noodle salad with a ginger-spiked peanut dressing, a grain salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers, and a refreshing mixture of grilled zucchini, eggplant and sweet red peppers marinated in intensely flavored balsamic vinegar. That concoction is called the Macedonian salad and it’s served over a variety of greens.

Another good cross-section of items is the alternative Greek plate ($5.95). It features two types of hummus (black bean and the standard, whipped garbanzo beans, both of which could have used a bit more garlic and lemon), along with the chilled eggplant spread, baba gahanouj. Scoop those up with a thick, grilled pita.

At dinner, the menu is fairly short, but varied enough to appeal to different tastes.

During one evening meal, we started with a roasted vegetable torta ($5.95), layers of grilled eggplant, red pepper and zucchini on a dreamy sauce made of pureed tofu, cilantro and chipotle peppers.

The last ingredient gives it a smoky, spicy quality, which is balanced by the creaminess of the sauce. The whole thing was wonderful. Ask for bread to mop up the extra sauce.

Entrees come with a either salad or soup. Both are good choices, but I lean toward the soup. I’ve enjoyed several memorable bowls, including a slightly spicy apple-celery-ginger and a hearty tomato Florentine.

I was thoroughly impressed with my wild mushroom pasta dish ($12.50). The earthy, exotic flavor of portobellos, shiitakes and a few button mushrooms was perfectly complemented with a rosemary cream sauce. The smooth, rich sauce contained tofu and ground cashews. The homemade noodles provided toothsome texture.

My companion enjoyed his vegetable curry ($10.25), an Indian-style stew tempered with coconut milk. A fruit chutney would have made a welcome accompaniment.

Among the other entrees I look forward to trying are the grilled polenta cakes with a red pepper marinara and the ginger-sesame stir-fry served with sesame soba noodles. The menu will change seasonally to showcase the freshest produce.

All the food is well-suited for the small but well-chosen selection of bottled microbrews and wine. Several of the reds and whites are made from organically grown grapes.

Good bets include the Badger Mountain cabernet-merlot and the delightful Bonterra chardonnay (made by Fetzer in California.)

On Wednesdays, a complimentary wine or beer tasting is offered with the purchase of dinner.

The second shocker about this inviting spot was learning that the two owners - Sylvia Wilson and Tonia Buckmiller - have no experience running a restaurant. The pair had done some catering, but Mizuna is the pair’s realization of a dream.

They face a challenge if they hope to win converts in a town that’s known for its love of meat and potatoes.

Maybe they won’t convince serious steak lovers, but for anyone who appreciates interesting food, Mizuna is definitely worth a visit.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MIZUNA Address/phone: 214 N. Howard, 747-2004 Meals: gourmet vegetarian Prices: lunch $3.50-$5.95; dinner, Days/hours: lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: nonsmoking Reservations: yes Credit cards: MC, V Personal checks: yes

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

This sidebar appeared with the story: MIZUNA Address/phone: 214 N. Howard, 747-2004 Meals: gourmet vegetarian Prices: lunch $3.50-$5.95; dinner, Days/hours: lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: nonsmoking Reservations: yes Credit cards: MC, V Personal checks: yes

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



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