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New Cellar retains its magic

Krista French of The Cellar checks out the new Enomatic machine at the Coeur d’Alene restaurant. (Kathy Plonka)
Krista French of The Cellar checks out the new Enomatic machine at the Coeur d’Alene restaurant. (Kathy Plonka)

Menu and location may have changed, but great flavors remain

The Wine Cellar has been a Coeur d’Alene favorite for more than 20 years, yet no one can accuse this restaurant of standing still.

Almost everything has changed since August. It now has:

• A new location in the former Brix space, next door to the old basement location.

• A new, Enomatic wine-tasting system downstairs (more on that later).

• A new menu, emphasizing “new American” cuisine over Mediterranean.

• New hours, open for lunch for the first time.

• Even a new name: The Cellar at 317 Sherman.

Longtime fans of the Wine Cellar (and I count myself as one) can passionately debate whether The Cellar is an improvement over the cozy, garlic-scented Wine Cellar. Yet several recent visits confirm that it remains one of the most convivial places in our region to listen to live music over wine and a good (often great) dinner.

The large main dining room, seating 75, is at street level and is stylishly decorated with burnished wood and red drum-shaped light fixtures. It has an open kitchen, a full-service bar and a grand piano.

The less-formal downstairs area feels more like the old Wine Cellar, with walls of rock and brick, several cozy couches, huge wine racks behind glass walls, an even bigger bar, and a stage for live music on Thursdays through Sundays. It seats about 80.

The full menu is available on either level. We tried dinner on both levels. My suggestion: Choose to sit upstairs if you want quiet conversation, downstairs if you want, to quote Petula Clark, “a swingin’ place, a cellar full of noise.”

The “new American” cuisine label is broad enough to include Pork Tenderloin ($24), Braised Short Ribs ($25) and Ling Cod ($23). Yet one particular Mediterranean favorite remains on the menu due to unflagging demand – the Bouillabaisse ($19) – and for this I am grateful. Chef Brett Petticolas prepares this seafood stew in classic style, with a rouille of roasted red pepper on the side.

At the new Cellar, the presentation is even more impressive than before. It arrived in an oversized, tilted bowl, which I would describe as “Bouillabaisse in an amphitheater.” The broth had a touch of red from the tomatoes and yellow from the saffron, with the result a nice subtle orange.

Then, you get to customize it to your own taste by mixing in spoonfuls of rouille – a garlicky-peppery puree – for a creamier texture and chili kick. Swimming in that orange-y broth were several jumbo shrimp, five plump mussels, five clams and several flaky chunks of fish (the fish is listed as “catch of the day” and will vary on different visits). For body, there were cubes of Yukon Gold potatoes.

Patricia Power, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Tom Power, said they would “be in trouble” with their many fans if they ever dropped that dish.

The menu still includes several pasta dishes, including Shrimp Pappardelle Carbonara ($19) and Pasta Rafael ($12). The latter arrived in the aforementioned “amphitheater” bowl and had a tangy sauce of fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, mushroom quarters, several varieties of salty olives and a light tomato base.

The Cellar is also churning out pizzas in its new brick oven, including a Fig & Prosciutto Pizza ($12). A gorgeous golden brown disc, with voluptuous yeasty curves, was topped with a sweet, rich fig jam, counterbalanced with a touch of salt from prosciutto slivers, a touch of acid from a balsamic reduction sauce, and a deep green blanket of arugula. I would rave about the toppings, except for one problem. There weren’t enough of them. Large expanses of crust were left naked on the perimeter and when that happens, large expanses of crust end up uneaten on the plate.

The Cellar does meat with aplomb, including a Brick Oven Roasted Chicken ($16), consisting of two mahogany-brown quarters arranged over a reduced sweet marsala sauce. A forkful of tender, moist brined chicken made a delicious mop for the marsala sauce.

The Flank Steak ($19) was seared medium-rare, sliced thin, and arranged in strips on a bed of potatoes and wild mushrooms. A syrupy balsamic peppercorn demi-glace provided the correct amount of tang.

The salads show a creative flair. The Spinach Salad ($6 or $9) includes a poached egg in a nest of greens, along with almonds and pickled onions. One member of our party was mighty pleased with his Caesar Salad (6/9), which was festooned with not just a token anchovy, but several full filet-strips.

For starters, I recommend the Charcuterie Platter ($13), strewn with roasted almonds, two kinds of olives, two kinds of cheese and several artisanal salamis, including soppresatta and salame di Varzi. Our table was largely unmoved by an old Wine Cellar favorite, the Brick Oven Brie ($9). The Brie and the fig jam were fine, but it was largely lost inside its bowl of bread. Between that and the leftover pizza crust, our table ended up with a lot of uneaten bread products.

The other overwhelming attraction of The Cellar: It’s a truly outstanding place to drink wine. The Cellar has a wine list that runs 20 pages and more than 3,000 bottles. Looking for Leonetti? They have lots of it. Looking for Italian or Spanish or French? They have plenty of that too.

And those of us who can’t pony up three figures for a bottle of wine are not left out. The Cellar is the first place in the Inland Northwest to install an Enomatic system, a high-end serving system for wine. You load any amount of cash you want on a magnetic card, look over the 20 bottles on display, pick out either a 1-ounce, 3-ounce or 5-ounce pour, and push a button. When you want another taste, you don’t have to wait for a server. You just walk up with your card and choose another. It’s a terrific way to sample lots of wine and I am not surprised that the system has already proven to be a smash hit.

“Our clients absolutely love it, it’s so social,” Power said.

With so much that is new, The Cellar still has a few service issues to work on. During one visit, the server neglected to tell one diner that they were out of the “marble potatoes” specified on the menu. Instead, she ended up with something that looked like tater tots, only worse, and we eventually discovered that they were deep-fried gnocchi.

This was on the first night of the new fall menu, so allowances should be made. Meanwhile, I suggest you get some friends together, head downstairs into The Cellar, order the Bouillabaisse or a couple of starters, listen to some live music, and have yourself a wine-tasting party.