A couple of popular ethnic restaurants in the area have snazzy new looks.
At Niko’s II, veteran designer John Rovtar transformed the rather plain surroundings into a lovely dining room that’s Mediterranean eclectic. The talented Rovtar also did Fugazzi and the downtown Great Harvest makeovers.
Niko’s new, striking entryway features a wooden wine rack sporting oversized bottles and an eye-catching pastry case.
The bright white stucco walls surround booths and tables with comfy new mahogany chairs. Sleek lights dangle over the tables. Huge urns punctuate various points around the room.
Divided in half by large pillars, the space seems cozier. An arbor fashioned out of slender birch trees is suspended from the ceiling and adds a whimsical touch.
Chef-owner Laith Elaimy has cooked up a batch of new menu items to coincide with the reopening.
New to the lunch offerings are a fresh mozzarella appetizer, a chopped salad with garbanzo beans, tomatoes, cukes, red peppers and pasta with greens in a raspberry vinaigrette and a pasta dish with tomato-basil sauce and feta cheese.
Sandwiches have shifted to showcase Middle Eastern ingredients. A kafta kabob is served with a pita. A hummus-veggie sandwich is sprinkled with feta and kalamat olives. The roasted vegetable sandwich is served with a lemony tahini sauce.
The beloved salad bar remains, but it’s now tucked discreetly against one wall.
In the evening, new dinners range from a lamb and rosemary sausage pasta dish called Loukaniko to Puntenseta, slices of sirloin sauteed with onions, mushrooms and garlic and finished with a creamy feta sauce. King salmon and tuna join the lineup.
To complement the beefed-up menu, Niko’s wine list has been expanded. Among the 17 wines available by-the-glass are such classy sippers as La Crema pinot noir, Kenwood merlot and a variety of Greek stuff. On the bottle list, Northwest and California vintners are well-represented including such high-end releases as Opus One and Woodward Canyon.
Niko’s II is located at 725 W. Riverside. For reservations, call 624-7444.
In Coeur d’Alene, it’s impossible to drive by Mad Mary’s new digs on Northwest Boulevard without gawking.
Steam pours out of vents and a couple of cockeyed cupolas jut from the sprawling building. The door handles are fire axes. Colorful dragons are painted on the exterior. It looks like the set of a David Lynch movie.
That said, it’s not surprising that a company that works on movies had a hand in creating this wonderfully wacky venue. ArtDogs, the Hayden Lake-based company that also helped create the atmosphere at The Bayou Brewing Company, is responsible for making Mad Mary’s crazy visions a reality.
Inside, the three dining rooms are crammed with kitschy eye candy. A 7-foot replica of the diminutive chef greets diners. Against a backdrop of bamboo paneling, there are lava lamps, old movie posters, rustic pipes. Vintage Mad magazines are tacked on the ceiling in the main dining room. In another, Christmas lights were woven into a fishing net and a trophy marlin has a stuffed doll wedged in its jaw.
(My two cents on the decor: 86 those distracting TV sets in the dining rooms.)
In the bar, there’s a 220-gallon saltwater aquarium and more lava lamps. Oldies were playing on the sound system and old 45s were suspended from more fishing net.
The giddy sense of humor extends to the menu, where diners are given the choice of spicyness starting with sissy and topping out at “tell Mary to light me on fire.”
Prices have gone up considerably. It seems silly to call pad Thai “poor man’s noodles” when you’re charging $14.95 for the version with shrimp. There are a few dishes under $10, but most are over.
Still, there are daily specials not listed on the menu. Be sure and ask about the $5.50 lunches, which include soup or salad, eggroll and entree.
Curry fans won’t be disappointed here, especially if they order the intensely flavored, potato-studded matsaman. It’s only available Friday and Saturday, though.
Other house specialities include spicy chicken livers, Thai long bean and a few American dishes such as a burger and a meaty pasta dish dubbed spahetthai.
Mad Mary’s is located at 1414 Northwest Blvd., in Coeur d’Alene. I’ve heard it’s been jammed for dinner, so call (208) 667-3267 for reservations.
Wine by the numbers
Ordering wine with dinner still befuddles many a diner.
So, Albertini’s Steakhouse in the Valley has invited John Allen from Vino’s to share some of basic hints in an event billed as “wine dining made fun and easy.”
Classic wine varietals will be sipped and paired with some of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
The seven-course tasting menu features crab-stuffed mushrooms, prime rib, sauteed scampi and two kinds of dessert.
There will be no pop quizzes or homework associated with this course. (Remember, it’s fun and easy.) The price is $40 and pre-payment is required. Phone 926-4323 to save a spot. The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday.
Albertini’s is located at 13524 E. Sprague.
Orlando’s, the student-run restaurant at Spokane Community College, opens for its fall season lunches on Sept. 25.
The buffet focuses on a different ethnic theme on most Thursdays through the quarter. It’s $5.95. Also on Thursdays, beginning Oct. 2, there’s also a classy multi-course, sitdown meal called the Presidential lunch. This spread - fit for any head of state - is $8 and reservations are essential.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, guests at Orlando’s can order from an ever-changing menu where prices range from $3.50 to $6.
For reservations or to receive a calendar of Orlando’s meals, call 533-7283.
Now that’s a wrap
Upscale burritos have certainly arrived as a food trend, with even Taco Time offering designer wrappers.
One chain in Seattle - World Wraps - really stretches the boundaries of what stuff you can squeeze inside a burrito for a hand-held meal.
Among the more creative entries were its Samurai salmon with glazed pieces of fish, nori, daikon sprouts, cucumbers, scallions, toasted sesame seeds and jasmine rice with a wasabi vinaigrette and a paella-stuffed tortilla called a Barcelona.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TASTY TOFU I’m fascinated by cooks who have the courage to try and turn tofu into something terrific. The bland but good-for-you soy food needs some coaxing before it blossoms as it does on Luna’s current menu. First, it’s given a coconut crust, which turns crunchy after it’s sauteed. Then, it’s plopped onto a pool of rich, creamy Thai curry sauce and topped with baby greens. Cool and crunchy, hot and creamy all on one fork. I don’t even want to know how many calories are in this creation. The tofu makes it seem virtuous anyway.