Veteran restaurateur and one-time mayoral candidate Dave Albertini is back in business.
When he sold his downtown Spokane restaurant (and busy watering hole) several years ago, he planned to live on Lake Coeur d’Alene and run Carlin Bay Resort, on the east side of the lake. But he found it tough to make a living during the short summer season.
So, in January, Albertini moved into the former Oriental Delight in the Valley. A few coats of paint and some lacy curtains gives the place a new look, but the sign outside still sports a neon pagoda. The sight is kind of comical, really.
Albertini has lofty aspirations of producing good, solid food with an upscale twist. He hired Charlie Reed, who was previously the executive chef at the Hilton Hotel in Casper, Wyo. Albertini said he was inspired by the success of the inventive chef who took over the Albertini’s space on Sprague. Dave Hill at Someplace Else has created a nice spot with reasonably priced, tasty food that is presented with some style.
Unfortunately, the new Albertini’s is no Someplace Else.
On a recent visit, the food was uneven and the service was clueless. For starters, when I made reservations, I asked how much the corkage fee was if I brought my own wine. I was told it was $7. Fine.
When I arrived with my Stonestreet chardonnay and Columbia syrah in hand, a waitress marched up to me and said, “You can’t bring that in here. That’s against the law.”
Excuse me, but you might want to check with the boss before accusing one of your customers of being a criminal.
Once we got over that little scene (we still had to open our own wine, which makes the $7 fee seem excessive), and settled in to explore the menu, things went a little more smoothly.
A plate of warm, toasted garlic bread with a creamy gorgonzola cheese dipping sauce arrived at our table as we debated over which appetizers to try. We settled on the chilled, grilled shrimp ($6.50) and the cheesy duck lumps ($4.50).
The shrimp were smothered in a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing that masked its flavor. They were mixed with iceberg lettuce, chunks of avocado and tomato. It seemed like it would have been more at home under the salad category.
The cheesy duck lumps were eggroll wrappers stuffed with Monterey jack and shredded duck. They lived up to their description of being cheesy, so much so that I couldn’t taste the duck meat.
For dinner, I ordered the lamb shank ($12.95) braised in an Italian-style gravy. The generous portion was fork-tender and it had a fine, meaty flavor, but the bland sauce had an odd gelatinous quality.
My meal was served with a side of dense polenta, as well as steamed red potatoes and some undercooked chunks of red pepper and mushrooms. (What was that?)
My companion ordered the Cajun ribeye and was disappointed that the steak was overcooked (it was served medium, not medium rare as ordered). It was also underseasoned. When something is described as Cajun, you expect an eye-watering dose of cayenne pepper and other spices, but the fire was too restrained here.
He also disliked his dinner salad, which was drenched in a so-called Caesar dressing that tasted like it came out of a bottle.
However, another diner thoroughly enjoyed her chicken nut salad ($6.95). It had big pieces of white meat, sweet onions and tomatoes. Pistachios added a great crunchy touch.
The nightly special, a fried catfish, appealed to another guest. It had a nice, light cornmeal crust which kept the fish flaky and moist, but it was served on a bed of mashed potatoes. That strange combination didn’t really work.
The two kids at our table ordered from the children’s menu, which includes a grilled cheese sandwich, a burger with fries and grilled chicken strips with cheese in a tortilla. (What they liked best, however, was the excellent homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert.)
This week, Albertini’s has added more-ambitious dishes to its menu. Prices are slightly higher, too.
Some of the additions that sound interesting include a polenta and spinach strudel served with a wild mushroom vinaigrette; a lobster linguine in saffron cream sauce; and a grilled duck breast (which the menu describes as “the breast of a virgin fowl raised in captivity by ourselves to ensure its virginity”). Albertini said that’s an inside joke.
The new menu also features daily specials such as linguine with clam sauce (red or white) on Mondays, schnitzel on Tuesdays, steamed clams on Wednesdays, lobster lasagna on Thursdays and selected seafood on Fridays and Saturdays.
A return visit this week for lunch was more successful.
I enjoyed a shrimp and shells ($9.95) pasta dish. It contained shell-shaped pasta and large, plump prawns in a light, creamy sauce that had a bit of sweet tomato taste. It was very nice if a bit expensive, considering that salad must be ordered separately.
My companion sampled the Yankee Pot Roast ($5.95) and by the end of the meal, he was yearning for the recipe. It featured big chunks of tender chuck in a rich brown onion gravy. That tasty sauce smothered a creamy pile of mashed potatoes. The meal also came with properly cooked, buttered carrots. (Other diner-type meals are a meatloaf made with venison, chicken-fried steak and a hot turkey sandwich.)
As with many new places, Albertini’s has some kinks that need to be smoothed out. There are encouraging signs improvements will be made. Just this week Albertini hired as dining room manager Teri Adolfson, who will train the staff. Adolfson operated Cafe Grand until its recent closing.
Let’s hope the pleasant lunch I had, rather than the dismal dinner, is an indication this restaurant can eventually live up to Albertini’s fine-dining aspirations.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ALBERTINI’S Address: 13524 E. Sprague, 926-4323 Meals: contemporary American Prices: lunch from $5 to $12; dinner from $8 to $14.95 Days, hours: MondaysThursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Alcohol: full bar Smoking: separate smoking section Reservations: yes Credit cards: AE, DSC, DC, MC, V Personal checks: yes