Spencer’s Stakes Its Claim With Great Steaks

FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 1998

Spencer’s **-1/2

My huge, honking porterhouse looked naked on the big white platter, without so much as a radish rose or a sprig of parsley to hide behind.

At Spencer’s, everything is served a la carte, meaning potatoes and veggies are priced separately. That’s a bold move in a town that prizes its buffets and full meal deals.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but even at Seattle’s swankiest steakhouse, El Gaucho, they throw in a spud.

We’ll see whether this a la carte approach will fly in Spokane.

For the record, I was not blown away by Spencer’s $5.95 baked potato, even with the dazzling array of toppings plopped onto it in a tableside ceremony. By the time it was all dolled up and placed before me, the potato was lukewarm.

But let me back it up a bit. When I first walked into to this classy new dining room at the DoubleTree Hotel downtown, I was impressed by the extensive use of mahogany, its darkness warmed by sophisticated lighting and the restaurant’s tony bar - stocked with all sorts of single-malt scotches and small batch bourbons.

The stylish space has a great feel. There are comfy booths rimming the room, tables in the middle and a private dining room off the bar. Vintage photos of Spokane and its early prominent citizens add to its charm. (However, the retro vibe went too far with dated witticisms that included “For a good dinner and a gentle wife, you can afford to wait,” which were painted on wood panels near the ceiling.)

Imagine my surprise, in this spiffy setting when the hostess greeted me and two female friends by saying: “How are you guys doing?”

Hellllll-o, this ultra-casual salutation just doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to make a gracious impression. (Note to all restaurant folk: Don’t call women “guys” or “girls.” Period. End of story.)

So, we were seated and our server stopped by, holding a bottle of water. She wanted us to buy some Italian designer water instead of drinking the stuff from the good old Spokane aquifer. They’re going to get you coming and going here. Tap water will be just fine, thanks.

Next, she walked us through the menu, explaining the accompaniments. Along with the $6 baker, there are garlic “smashed” potatoes made with red taters, hash browns au gratin, sauteed mushrooms, a green vegetable of the day with hollandaise and crispy onion curls.

Meals do come with a perfectly fine romaine salad and bread. Our server suggested that we split a steak. Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

I took the New York portion of the 24-ounce porterhouse ($29.95), while my friend carved off the filet section. But that was on the second time around. We had to send the first steak back because it was well beyond the medium rare we had ordered.

Steaks at Spencers are cooked at 1600 degrees in a state-of-the-art broiler, so it’s easy to see how they can get scorched.

It might be a good policy to have diners cut into their meat when it’s first delivered to the table to see if it’s cooked correctly. That way, you’re not waiting for the waiter to swing back by.

When we finally got our steak back, it was wonderful. It was juicy, tender, well-seasoned and had a great full flavor - everything you could hope for in a first-rate slab of meat. Reminded me of those beefy steaks of yesteryear.

Some of the cuts at Spencer’s - including the porterhouse - are prime beef. That’s the best meat money can buy, so designated for the ribbons of fat marbled throughout.

I also sampled the lamb chops ($24.95). The four double-cut chops were outstanding, rich with that slightly gamey taste that makes lamb appealing to some, repugnant to others. I loved the mint jelly on the side, a nostalgic touch in the days when we’re overloaded with every manner of fancy chutney and salsa.

The plate presentation on these meals could use some work, though. Just because the menu is a la carte doesn’t mean a steak has to arrive on a plain white plate. Pretty it up with cracked pepper on the rim or some clever garnish.

Our side dishes were fine. Whole mushrooms sauteed in wine were the classic steak accompaniment. The garlic smashed potatoes were buttery rich. Watch out for those whole cloves, though. And the asparagus was properly cooked, not too crisp or too limp. The six fat stalks were a sweet preview of spring.

Other entrees include roast chicken, pork chops, a veal porterhouse, prime rib and grilled salmon. The fresh fish selection during our visit was a simply prepared marlin. There is absolutely nothing on the menu for vegetarians, unless you consider the salads and sides. But then, this is a steakhouse.

The wine list is strong on reds, both from California and the Northwest, ranging in price from $20 to $125 to a Caymus special edition cabernet sauvignon. Standouts include the Arbor Crest cameo reserve merlot ($27), the Marietta zinfandel (though a little steep at $31) and the Atlas Peak sangiovese ($27), which is a great example of what California is doing with Italian varietals.

Or, have a glass of port and indulge in the “naughty” chocolate fudge cake ($5.95). It’s a smooth, bittersweet treat - more fudge than cake.

Lunch is a little more low-key. The servers are still decked out in their formal whites, but the prices are easier to swallow.

I munched happily on the grilled London broil and tomato salad ($7.95). The sliced flank steak was perfectly pink, as ordered. I liked the steak’s slightly charred coating from the grilling and the tangy chunks of peeled tomatoes that sat to the side. I think it’s a stretch to call this dish a salad, though.

If that’s a stretch, then calling the basic roast beef on a bun with au jus a porterhouse dip ($6.95) is a quantum leap. We even asked our server what the deal was and he said he wasn’t sure why it was called that. It’s not a porterhouse, but thinly sliced prime rib. It was a French dip. Fine, but nothing special.

Other mid-day choices range from a half-pound burger and a grilled crab sandwich to a cobb salad and an entree-sized Caesar with grilled chicken. Some of the steaks served at dinner are also available at lunch, with the same pricetag.

Spencer’s certainly has much going for it - a lovely atmosphere, eager-to-please servers and superb steaks and chops. With a few adjustments, it could easily become one of the premier dining rooms in Spokane.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area

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.

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

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.

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


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