January 2, 2011 in Idaho Voices

Four years of reviewing restaurants had ups, downs

By The Spokesman-Review
 

To paraphrase an old quip from some unknown wit, the only things that will survive the impending nuclear holocaust are cockroaches, Cher and Hudson’s Hamburgers.

Eventually, all situations must go pear-shaped and come to an end, and so is the sad fate of this humble little local section of the newspaper you hold in your ink-smeared fingers. You can put away that bottle of Jack Daniels and dry your tears – shameless plug alert – because new columns will continue to happen at www.getoutnorthidaho.com.

In the last four years, many of the establishments I’ve covered in these pages have managed to reach their final doom, and I’ve often joked that they’ve simply fallen victim to the brutal and tragic Get Out Curse. It wasn’t always bad reviews that would cause this phenomenon. It would happen randomly, and sometimes the reasons for their death were quite obvious, while others floated away more mysteriously.

The first casualty I can recall was Hayden’s much-hyped but very short-lived Rock Joint. I attended an invite-only shakedown cruise with folks from every publication, radio station and night club in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area, and they tried to bribe us all into saying nice things about the place with endless free exotic cocktails and awesome bar food, including something called “Bon Jovi Bread.”

I must confess, it worked for me, but despite my questionably glowing write-up, the owners flounced for good several months later after an open-air death metal concert and body piercing festival sent the rural retirees in the neighborhood over the edge and the local police finally got sick of entertaining their endless complaints.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget Pizza Schmizza in Riverstone, despite its blip of an existence. It inspired probably the most rotten review I ever turned in, and to this day I don’t know if I’d had a bad maple bar that morning or what. “Sarcastic rhyme schemes are not necessarily great for stimulating the appetite,” I wrote, and about the pizza itself I snipped, “I chewed and chewed and had to force myself to swallow, nearly gagging in the process.”

After spending two hours on the phone getting a severe tongue-lashing by the understandably disgruntled owner, I realized that in the future I probably wouldn’t even bother covering places that left me so bitingly bitter. The curse took poor Pizza Schmizza under within months.

I was worried for America’s Cheesecake Café in Coeur d’Alene from the word go, after my first and only experience there had me writing about the confusion of the insane 12-page menu, the fresh bong-hit demeanor of the waiter, and coleslaw “that must have come from a recipe borrowed from down the street at Kootenai Medical Center.” Ouch. I was clearly unimpressed and apparently the rest of the world agreed, as the place didn’t even see it through the rest of the summer.

On the other hand, I liked Wagner’s Hofbrau at first, noting “I felt like King Ludwig III of Bavaria when I was so enthusiastically greeted at the door by a chatty hostess who was kind enough to walk me through the ordering process.” Turns out it would be that same ordering process that would help lead them to the pearly gates of that great Neuschwanstein Castle in the sky where all fake German restaurants eventually go when they make people stand in a buffet line for 20 minutes and refuse to serve wienerschnitzel and spaeztle.

Occasionally, I was too nice about certain restaurants and it was the reverse effect of readers letting me know how wrong I was that seemed to bring on the Curse. “I totally disagree with this review,” read one of several negative reactions to my review of Post Falls’ long-gone Italian eatery Mangia. “Everyone’s meal was revolting. The service was horrible and we were charged $8 for a 2 oz. serving of wine. This was the worst dining experience of my life.” Fine then, color me wrong, but they did make a darn good Caesar salad.

A disgruntled ex-employee from Wheat Montana Bread Co. eventually clarified my false impression of how fresh and natural their sandwiches seemed at the time, writing “everything comes from good old Sysco…nothing is organic… all the bakery items arrive frozen. Sorry to burst your bubble but thought you should be informed along with your readers.” Maybe I was just lucky, but they had me fooled. Not the Curse, which worked its black magic on them nearly instantly.

Grumpy’s, the Chicken Basket, and most recently Sherman Junction all opened with high hopes, only to exit stage left after brief and not always stellar performances.

The latest and most depressing fatality is longtime Coeur d’Alene sushi landmark Takara, the very first restaurant to receive the Get Out treatment in this space. It seems somewhat ironic that things have come full circle in that regard, and it’s only appropriate to wrap things up here with a final tribute to my favorite local eatery and the place that started it all. Sayonara, Takara. Kampai!

Contact correspondent Patrick Jacobs by e-mail at orangetv@yahoo.com. Previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. For more restaurant and nightlife reviews, music commentary and random thoughts and photos, visit his blog at getoutnorthidaho.com.


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