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Dining experience hits the jackpot at Masselow’s

Dining at Masselow’s Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort and Casino is all in the approach.

If you aren’t staying at the hotel, but want intimate fine dining, here’s my advice: Park in the garage at the north end of the resort and stroll down the long hallway to the hotel lobby and the entrance of Masselow’s. There are large, framed black-and-white images of the Kalispels along the way, a nod to the humble beginnings of the tribe.

It’s also the perfect way to avoid the bustle and crush of people near the casino.

Step into Masselow’s and the dark wood, soft lighting and curved ceiling are meant to evoke the grottoes on the Kalispel reservation, caves used for worship for thousands of years. There are also images of the Manressa Grotto on the walls.

The tribe was once among the poorest in the country – and nearly wiped out by disease and food shortages by 1911. There’s a prominently displayed photo of Chief Masselow, the restaurant’s namesake, who is credited with keeping remaining tribal members together as they were relocated to the Kalispels’ main reservation near Usk, Wash.

The people of the Pend Oreille were largely river and lake paddlers who fished, hunted, gathered berries and dug for bitterroot and camas root as the seasons changed. Small images of members digging the camas roots and drying them are also displayed in the restaurant.

The photos are haunting and the combination of images and ambience work together to create a welcome reverence for tribal history. Although chefs initially set out to find ways of offering traditional tribal foods with a contemporary influence, resort communication coordinator Anna Haugen says they quickly found that was going to be harder than expected.

The menu is probably more accurately described as touched by tribal food traditions than inspired by them.

Servers welcome diners in Salish, the native language of the Kalispels, and offer an amuse bouche of small fry breads with nicely tart huckleberry puree for dipping.

There’s a popular elk sirloin with shiitake fennel fondue and herbed goat cheese ($31). Wild salmon with apple chutney and fresh greens ($34) is available now that executive sous chef Bob Rogers has found a reliable source for line-caught fish.

Dakota bison rib-eye is among the more popular dishes ($34), but bison was an important food source for Plains tribes, not the Kalispels.

What Masselow’s does offer is high-quality ingredients that are simply and elegantly prepared. There is a Northwest focus to the menu and it is seasonally influenced.

Chef Rogers says every element of each dish is made from scratch. He’s been around Spokane-area kitchens long enough to know that it wasn’t always done that way, and he’s enjoying the chance to share scratch-cooking secrets – from stocks and sauces to breads and desserts – with the younger chefs in the kitchen.

“This has been like a playground for me,” says Rogers, who has worked as a chef for the Davenport Hotel, Patsy Clark’s, Salty’s and Luigi’s, among others.

During our dinner visit we tried the Washimi Filet Mignon, an American Kobe-style beef ($41). It was perfectly cooked and seasoned with Salish smoked salt and horseradish aioli.

My dining companion was reluctant to share much, but I finagled enough bites of the tender, flavorful meat to appreciate the quality and texture.

The prawns in saffron cream ($29) was a dinner special the night we visited, but has since been added to the regular menu because of its popularity with diners. I can attest that the impossibly creamy texture of the sauce made it difficult to leave room for dessert.

Portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and arugula added nice layers of flavor and bursts of color to the earthy sauce served over orzo. The prawns were generous and abundant.

The Cougar Gold Cheddar Arancini ($9) appetizer– I’ll call it fancy fried cheese balls – was strange and wonderful at the same time. It was served with speck – a smoked prosciutto – and spicy Wenatchee apple ragout.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I still can’t be sure I would order it again.

Our dinner entrees offered more than enough food; we found the side dishes unnecessary. We tried the roasted cauliflower gruyere ($7) and the four-cheese baked pasta ($8), which had very similar flavors.

The basket of breads included a nice assortment made in-house. The infused butters were an elegant treat, including Parmesan and black pepper, and herb – but it was the bright tangerine butter that perked up a winter evening.

For dessert we shared a trio of ice creams made at Masselow’s. We missed out on some of the more unusual offerings (Rogers says they’ve offered a brie ice cream recently), but we enjoyed the vanilla studded with cherries and chocolate. The Tequila Sunrise sorbet was flavorful, but the texture was a bit too icy.

The restaurant’s wine list is ample and very Northwest-focused. They’ll soon be adding some half-bottles to the bottles and glasses that are currently on the menu.

Rogers describes his preparations as simple and clean. He prefers to go easy on sauces and the like to allow the quality of the food to show through.

He says if quality ingredients are not available, he’d rather go without. That’s why they were without salmon for a time while he found another supplier.

Breakfast at Masselow’s is mostly traditional fare, with a few specialty dishes and ingredients. The Masselow’s Benedict ($15) includes smoked speck, the Prairie Benedict features black pepper biscuits and a sausage patty made in-house ($12), and there is a King Crab omelet ($15).

I’ve been daydreaming about a return breakfast visit so I could have another crack at the French Toast Stack ($12). The beautiful tower includes layers of Petit Chat brioche (the only bread not made in Masselow’s kitchen, but it comes from a Spokane bakery), thick Kansas City-style bacon, cream cheese and slightly tart huckleberry compote. It was delicious.

Masselow’s is the first new area restaurant to be added to the AAA Four Diamond list in nearly a decade. Beverly’s at the Coeur d’Alene resort also received the honor, which includes a surprise visit from AAA reviewers.

The experience and food are elegant and prices reflect the high standard they’ve set.