It was a welcome way to come in from the cold.
Record snows had reduced the sidewalk to an uneven and narrow path. Parking might have been mistaken for abandoning the car in a snow berm. The thaw began as we walked into Mizuna’s small entry.
We were greeted immediately and led across the worn wooden floor to a table near the tall windows in exposed brick walls. We settled in behind the menus in the golden light, warmed by the scent of aromatic spices drifting from the kitchen.
Friends Sylvia Wilson and Tonia Buckmiller opened Mizuna as a vegetarian restaurant in 1996. Many people still think of it as such, although the menu was only exclusively meat-free for five years. First, fish and seafood were added to the creative vegetarian fare. Now an array of meat graces the omnivores’ menu, but vegetables still shine.
Buckmiller departed in 2003 to start a family. Wilson sold the restaurant to longtime server Mike Jones in 2006. Under his hand, Mizuna has maintained its easy elegance and stayed close to the visions of its founding mothers.
The tight menu focuses on fresh, organic and seasonal ingredients, many grown by local farmers. Servers offer a vegetarian menu for those who prefer one, although the meatless main course options are noted on the standard bill of fare.
Our dinner opened with the pecan-dusted calamari appetizer ($12). A small side of jalapeno-marinated red and green cabbage, onion, red pepper and cilantro offered nice heat and a satisfying crunch. A subtle ginger-cilantro aioli provided the cool contrast.
I intended only to snitch from my companion’s roasted beet and lentil salad ($9 for a whole salad, $6.50 for half), but he ended up sharing. The flavors of earthy, roasted red beets and lentils anchored the organic greens, which were dressed in a red wine and maple vinaigrette.
The addition of candied walnuts and a generous helping of soft, creamy chevre helped me forget any regrets about abandoning my standard salad order.
Until that night, every dinner I’d eaten at Mizuna started with the white cheddar and apple salad. It’s dressed with citrus and shallot vinaigrette and topped with tart Granny Smiths, tangy white cheddar, caramelized walnuts and dried sweetened cranberries.
Both salads are on the lunch menu as well ($8 whole, $5.50 half).
Our dinner entrees arrived in a cloud of mingling aromas.
The showpiece dish that night was the perfectly cooked Berkshire pork chops topped with red pepper and cilantro-studded sweet corn salsa ($28). The chops are pan-seared by chef Tom Nichols and glazed with honey and house-made hickory-smoked jalapenos before being finished in the oven.
The vegetarian version of the entrée ($18) is made with Field Roast, a meat substitute made from grain.
We wanted to love the innovative tamale served alongside, but perhaps it was oversteamed or held too long. The result was chewy masa dough that kept us from enjoying the spicy chipotle and sweet potato filling.
The finale didn’t disappoint. The flourless dark chocolate hazelnut pavé didn’t look big enough to share, but a single bite of the dense dessert was enough to erase that impression.
Pavé (pronounced “pah-VAY”) is named for its flat rectangular or square shape. The French word originally referred to cobblestones or paving stones.
When I called Jones, he said Mizuna was in the midst of a menu change. Some dishes will be tweaked the heirloom pumpkin purchased from Spokane Valley organic farmer Dan Jackson had run out. Butternut squash will likely be substituted.
The chops will stay on the menu and a popular special – grilled rack of lamb served with savory bread pudding and kalamata olive vinaigrette ($26) – will be added.
“I had Berkshire pork for the first time the last summer and decided that it was going to be a staple on our menu,” Jones says, adding that the meat bears little resemblance to the too-lean, easily dried-out pork chops sold at most grocery stores.
Another plus is that a flatbread lunch appetizer featuring Maytag blue cheese cream, roasted pears, prosciutto and olive oil-dressed greens will jump to the dinner menu ($12 at dinner; lunchtime flatbreads are $9). It features a cracker-thin crust, barely-caramelized pears and contrasting savory prosciutto.
A colleague and I liked the house-made green curry on the lunch menu with expertly cooked mussels and clams (vegetarians can substitute ginger tofu; $9).
Yukon gold potatoes, pumpkin, red bell pepper and spinach were stirred into the curry, which was served with jasmine rice. I longed for a bit of heat but still enjoyed the mingling spices and ultra-creamy texture.
The portobello mushroom sandwich ($10) was nicely cooked, topped with Cambozola cheese (a cross between blue cheese and camembert), grilled onions, chipotle aioli, grilled onions, tomatoes and greens.
The roll tasted freshly made, with a soft texture and nice flavor. But the soup that day was an overly salty red beans and rice that we left largely untouched.
Service during our visits was attentive and well timed.
I was briefly annoyed by the flimsy, dog-eared and sometimes grungy menus we were handed. I wanted to suggest a heavier stock paper, something higher quality that would hint at the class of the food to come.
But I’ve changed my mind. Those light paper menus are a promise of Mizuna’s momentary offerings – a fresh sheet of dishes that include seasonal and local fare that could change tomorrow.