November 15, 1996 in Seven

Fugazzi Continues To Please Under New Ownership

By The Spokesman-Review
 

One of the reasons I love covering restaurants is that it’s much like following a soap opera.

Chefs and kitchen personnel move around so often, you need a scorecard to keep track. Seasoned diners love to chew the fat about what place has become completely off the wall or which chef is fed up and ready to quit.

There certainly have been loads of changes lately at Fugazzi, one of Spokane’s classiest eateries.

Last May, chef Meg Edwards took over for Michael Waliser. (Edwards, who is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, had worked at Fugazzi when she first arrived in Spokane. Then, she moved on to Luna. Then, to Ankeny’s.)

Shortly after Edwards stepped into the exec-chef role, Fugazzi’s owners Kit Garrett and Bobby Hancock sold the restaurant to developer Joe Dinnison. That sparked speculation that Fugazzi would suffer under the direction of someone who had no restaurant experience.

Well, rest assured, adventurous eaters. Fugazzi is doing just fine.

With the new fall menu, Edwards has really hit her stride, serving up a good mix of robust, warming fare along with lighter, but still boldly seasoned pasta and seafood dishes.

On the lunch menu, I’m absolutely crazy about the black bean ravioli - a Southwest spin on my favorite Italian pasta.

The ancho chili-flavored raviolis were artfully arranged on spinach leaves and a pool of bright crimson, lime-spiked tomato sauce. Ivory slivers of jicama on top of the pasta contributed a nice crunch. The sunny flavors of this dish made it easy to forget about the cold wind blowing outside.

A lighter choice for lunch might be the penne pasta with tender, braised chunks of chicken in a fragrant red wine sauce. The red grapes among the noodles are an unexpected and welcome touch.

Fugazzi makes one of the best Caesars I’ve tasted, with the zesty, traditional, lemon-based dressing. Anchovies are taken out of the equation and smeared onto a crunchy crostini in the form of a creamy spread.

I liked the use of crunchy bread crumbs as an alternative to croutons. The presentation - with whole, dressed romaine leaves piled on a plate - was pretty. Still, I’d rather someone else do the chopping.

On the midday menu, I also like the Oriental chicken salad, with its Thai-style peanut sauce and delicate noodles, the vegetable panini with smoky roasted eggplant and red pepper and the grilled honey chicken sandwich on focaccia.

At dinner, with the soft lighting, the strains of Sinatra playing in the background and the quietly competent service, Fugazzi’s sophisticated dining room has a big-city feel.

Certainly, the innovative dishes served there would pass muster on menus in Seattle or San Francisco.

Start with a crunchy smoked salmon egg roll. This Asian-inspired appetizer blends stir-fried veggies seasoned with Thai fish sauce together with the Northwest’s favorite fish. The combination clicks, especially with the slightly sweet dipping sauce that accompanies the egg rolls.

Another impressive starter is the offbeat preparation of calamari. At Fugazzi, these tiny squid rings are dusted with flour, cornmeal, ginger, anise and allspice, and then quickly fried. A slightly sweet slaw served on top provided a cool, crunchy contrast.

Because I cook it so often at home, I rarely order salmon in restaurants, but I couldn’t resist sampling the nightly special during a recent dinner. As soon as I heard that it was served with an unusual variety of potato (an Idaho-grown Russian banana potato), I was sold.

Good thing, too, because this dish was truly memorable. The perfectly cooked salmon filet was surrounded with a velvety sauce of creamed leeks and spinach that was tweaked by a little lemon zest.

The banana-shaped potatoes were heavenly, lightly roasted slabs of spuds topped with a dab of sour cream and caviar.

Other dinners that hit the mark included the roasted duck and the spinach fettuccine with portabello mushrooms, sweet potato and spaghetti squash.

The duck was roasted (I prefer the skin a bit crispier) and served on a gorgeous mound of pumpkin-studded risotto. A huckleberry sauce seasoned with shallots, lemon juice, thyme and duck stock lapped up against the perimeter of the savory rice.

Throwing pumpkin together with huckleberries might seem an odd coupling, but it worked. The flavors were vibrant and exotic.

While the pasta might have paled in comparison to the other dishes, it succeeded as a study in simple, straightforward flavors.

I’m a fan of any entree that mixes several starches and here there were three - the squash, sweet potato and spinach fettuccine. This is the lone vegetarian entree offered on the dinner menu, but it can also be ordered with prawns.

The only glitch in an otherwise flawless dinner was a glaring one. The nightly pasta special featured mussels and a few of them tasted funky. And there’s nothing that tastes worse than bad bivalves.

I didn’t think it was possible, but the wonderful breads have improved under the new baker, Keith Goyden. He has added several new varieties including a tangy whole wheat levan and a cranberry-pecan.

Goyden comes to Fugazzi after working in Seattle at the respected Grand Central Bakery and the upscale bistro, Campagne.

Fugazzi’s new owner has plans to move the bakery around the first of the year to a new location and add a lounge with the extra space. (By the way, Fugazzi mixes a knockout martini with Bombay Sapphire gin.)

Since it opened three years ago, I’ve heard the rub against Fugazzi. People complain the prices are too high for the portion size. Or that the menu changes too often. Or not often enough. Most recently, I’ve heard two people complain that their tuna was either undercooked or overcooked. (Servers, please ask how diners want that fish cooked.)

It’s a given that pleasing everyone is impossible.

But in Spokane, there are only a handful of truly innovative restaurants attempting to do cutting edge cuisine. Maybe they don’t hit a home run every night, but they’re trying. I think it’s important to support those creative efforts.

If it’s been a while since you’ve been into Fugazzi - or if you’ve never been in - it’s time to check it out.

Fugazzi, 1 N. Post, is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. For reservations, call 624-1133. , DataTimes MEMO: Leslie Kelly can be contacted via E-mail at lesliek@spokesman.com or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR DEVOTEES OF VENISON This here’s hunting season. It seems strange, though, that in a country where blaze orange is an important fall color, you rarely spot venison on a restaurant menu. That’s why I’m pleased to jacklight a new entree found among Birkebeiner’s autumn offerings. The Hunter’s Dream ($12.50) features exotic mushrooms sauteed with tender medallions of venison in a creamy Marsala wine sauce. It’s served with wedges of roasted garlic-rosemary potatoes. The meat, which is farm-raised in New Zealand, was much milder than expected. Instead of being gamey, it reminded me of a flavorful cut of lamb. And the rich, slightly sweet sauce worked as a wonderful complement. This venison dish is definitely worth a shot. Leslie Kelly

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, RESTAURANT REVIEW - Checking back

Leslie Kelly can be contacted via E-mail at lesliek@spokesman.com or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR DEVOTEES OF VENISON This here’s hunting season. It seems strange, though, that in a country where blaze orange is an important fall color, you rarely spot venison on a restaurant menu. That’s why I’m pleased to jacklight a new entree found among Birkebeiner’s autumn offerings. The Hunter’s Dream ($12.50) features exotic mushrooms sauteed with tender medallions of venison in a creamy Marsala wine sauce. It’s served with wedges of roasted garlic-rosemary potatoes. The meat, which is farm-raised in New Zealand, was much milder than expected. Instead of being gamey, it reminded me of a flavorful cut of lamb. And the rich, slightly sweet sauce worked as a wonderful complement. This venison dish is definitely worth a shot. Leslie Kelly

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, RESTAURANT REVIEW - Checking back


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