May 30, 1997 in Seven

Your Neighborhood Market A Great Place To Dine

By The Spokesman-Review
 

I have seen the future of dining and it is at your neighborhood supermarket.

There are now at least three spots in Spokane - the two Huckleberrys and Harry O’s - to sup on flashy, yupscale food and pick up groceries at the same time.

This trend has been flourishing for some time in bigger cities. Ever heard of Larry’s Markets in the Seattle area?

This kind of alternative makes a lot of sense for the time-crunched crowd who can grab the essentials and then sit down for a meal all in the same space. That delicious convenience, along with the astonishingly reasonable wine and beer prices make these eateries worth exploring.

The revamped Harry O’s Bistro is cranking out some of the most exciting, innovative food I’ve enjoyed in recent memory.

This market’s new dining room has been dressed up with plants, candles, pale yellow tabletops and linen napkins for the after-5 crowd. A good variety of background music added to the atmosphere. (The soundtrack from that foodie flick “Big Night” seemed particularly fitting.)

Chef Ian Wingates’ ambitious menu starts with a stellar tuna on toast. This preparation involves searing a piece of yellowfin medium rare and perching it on a crunchy palm-size crouton with a dollop of sharp tapenade. The full-flavored fish stood up well to the briny mix of olives, anchovies and capers. A very nice little package, I might be tempted to order this for my entree next time.

The braised exotic mushrooms ($8.99) were sauteed in garlic, butter and shallots and turned tender in a lovely, plum-colored chianti wine sauce. Good stuff to soak up with the accompanying Fugazzi-baked bread. But I was disappointed that the porcinis mentioned on the menu weren’t available and shiitakes were substituted.

Creative salads include a seared calamari with small red and golden spring beets, oranges and watercress and romaine topped with grilled Reggiano. Our table shared a Rocket salad ($6.50), which showcased chunks of fresh mozzarella wrapped in pancetta and seared on the grill. I liked the pleasantly bitter arugula dressed in a chervil vinaigrette, but found the mozzarella too bland with a rubbery texture. Maybe a smaller piece of cheese would work better.

There are just seven entrees offered, along with daily seafood specials, but that short list covers a lot of territory - steak marinated in chianti and lemongrass ($15.99) to a rotisserie-roasted pork loin ($15.75). I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of vegetarian offerings including grilled mushrooms on sweet red pepper with gorgonzola cheese and a Bartlett pear coulis ($12.50).

I was delighted with my juicy, tender veal chop ($19.99). The mild flavor of the grilled meat matched nicely with a bold “fig jam” and balsamic vinegar syrup. My only complaint was I wished there was more of it. The creamy corn pudding accompaniment was spiked with parmesan cheese and fresh thyme.

This season’s hottest seafood - the Copper River salmon - was offered several different ways and the maple-glazed filet ($15) I sampled had a melt-in-the-mouth texture. The sweetness of the maple glaze made for a good contrast to the meaty fish.

I also enjoyed the Bistro’s nontraditional take on chicken parmesan ($12.50) with the cheese wedged inside a breast and then grilled. It was moist and light, but still intensely flavorful.

Throughout the meal, our server was helpful and attentive without making our party feel rushed.

The wine list includes everything that’s available in the market - priced just $5, or so, above retail. That’s a real steal. There is also a pretty high-end selection of wines by the glass including the Saintsbury pinot noir and the Robert Mondavi cabernet for around $5.

A huge choice of beers are also available, along with a few brews on tap including Birkebeiner’s Amber Ale and Pike’s Pale Ale.

I’m rooting for this place to thrive. And it should based on the food - the interesting sauces, fresh ingredients and plates garnished with fragrant herbs. It’s encouraging to see a new player join the expanding number of dinner houses in Spokane that take creative chances.

At both Huckleberrys, the appealing deli cases are jammed with gorgeous-looking salads and entrees like lasagna that can be reheated there or at home. Several dishes are prepared to order during lunch and dinner hours. There are more than 50 items in the kitchen’s huge repertoire.

The main problem I’ve encountered at Huckleberrys is that the food usually looks better than it tastes. I’ve tried all sorts of salads in numerous visits - Asian noodles, broccoli, chicken pasta with sun-dried tomato - and found them uniformly underseasoned. The lone exception in my experience was the tasty marinated eggplant salad.

The other day, at the Monroe Street Huckleberrys, I tried again, with a curried rice salad that was a brilliant shade of saffron. This time the salad was spiced right, but the rice had a dried-out, too-chewy texture. After sending it back to the kitchen, a server returned to lecture me that this dish was made with basmati rice and this was the way basmati rice was supposed to taste.

Excuse me, but I know what basmati rice tastes like. It’s nutty with a firm, not a chewy texture. And, what’s with this condescending attitude?

Fortunately, the in-store bistros do offer samples, so I suggest trying before buying.

I had a much more pleasant experience at the Valley store, which has a more spacious dining room - complete with soft lighting and a faux fireplace in the corner - and a made-to-order dinner menu that included a nicely grilled tofu and crab cakes.

One of the menu’s best features invites diners to pick out their own cut at the meat counter - anything from seafood to ribs to Jamaican jerk chicken - and the kitchen grills it. Dinner includes salad or soup, a mighty pile of garlic mashed potatoes and some grilled veggies for $3.99 plus the price of meat. Such a deal. It’s the first time I’ve ever paid less than $10 for lamb chop dinner.

I was also impressed with the bistro’s savory tofu preparation. Locally produced tofu from Small Planet was marinated in a teriyaki sauce and grilled. Anyone who’s squeamish about slabs of soybean curd would be pleasantly surprised by the way the marinade permeates the tofu. And grilling it gives it a meaty texture, though you’re not likely to mistake it for a burger. The dish was served with rice and tender-crisp veggies drizzled with a light Thai peanut sauce. The halo of fresh basil was a nice touch.

The crab cakes, on the other hand, could have used a little less breading and more seafood. I liked the spicy remoulade sauce and diced sweet red peppers on top and the lightly sauteed spinach underneath. However, the mashed potatoes that worked so well with the grilled meat didn’t mesh with the cakes. Some roasted spuds would have been a better fit.

At both locations, diners have the incredible inventory of The Spokane Wine Company at their disposal. The enormous choices cover all the world’s wine-producing regions and, this is a big plus, there’s an informative staff available to help with your selections. Pick up a bottle and they’ll charge just a $3 corkage fee in the bistro.

With full dinners topping out at $12 and such reasonable wine and beer prices, people can - and should - eat out more often.

, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Harry O’s Bistro Address/phone: 508 E. Third/458-2202 Days/hours: Dinner, Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Meals: Southern French and contemporary Italian Prices: dinner entrees from $10.99 to $19.99 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: yes, but call after 4 p.m. Credit cards: DSC, MC, V Personal checks: yes

2. Huckleberrys Address/phone: 15510 E. Sprague/928-3687 and 926 S. Monroe/624-1349 Days/hours: meals served daily during store hours, made-to-order dinners at the Valley location are served daily 4:30-10 p.m. Meals: contemporary American Prices: dinner entrees from $6 to $10 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: for large parties only Credit cards: DSC, MC, V Personal checks: yes

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Harry O’s Bistro Address/phone: 508 E. Third/458-2202 Days/hours: Dinner, Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Meals: Southern French and contemporary Italian Prices: dinner entrees from $10.99 to $19.99 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: yes, but call after 4 p.m. Credit cards: DSC, MC, V Personal checks: yes

2. Huckleberrys Address/phone: 15510 E. Sprague/928-3687 and 926 S. Monroe/624-1349 Days/hours: meals served daily during store hours, made-to-order dinners at the Valley location are served daily 4:30-10 p.m. Meals: contemporary American Prices: dinner entrees from $6 to $10 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: for large parties only Credit cards: DSC, MC, V Personal checks: yes


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