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Wine prices set certain menus apart

When did this area become a mecca for good – even great – Italian food?

We thought we had covered enough when we trumpeted Tony’s on the Lake (Sept. 6) and discovered Sundance Bistro (Feb. 6) in the first year of our culinary adventure.

Since then we have visited Italia Trattoria in Browne’s Addition, Angelo’s Ristorante in Coeur d’Alene; Café Italiano on the South Hill and the Italian Kitchen in downtown Spokane.

Make one your neighborhood haunt, or better yet, try them all. Turn yourself into a critic. Pick a favorite dish, something like gnocchi or chicken parmesan or piccata, and try it at multiple places.

What we have found is outstanding food and service in a pleasant atmosphere. The cost leans more to date night or special occasion than spur of the moment.

And of course there are many, many more, something for every budget and location.

Tomato Street was another great revelation for a recent birthday gathering, and someone was pushing Ferraro’s while another suggested Mamma Mia’s. At work we often go to Cassano’s, and when work took us to Cheney it was Lenny’s. The kids loved Old Spaghetti Factory and Spaghetti Station. And who hasn’t been downtown to Luigi’s?

But we basically want to mention the places that might be considered a step up, a place to go for that romantic special occasion, where the food just seems to be a bit more authentic, more zesty. And, of course, locally owned is preferred.

How there got to be so many good places escapes us and we haven’t had the time to get to know every owner and/or chef. Instead, we would like to think it’s just the stars lining up in our little corner of the world.

We have never really gone into much critical detail about the food we eat because we believe it is subjective. Mostly we judge good or bad. Italian is no different, and we can’t say that when we walked away from any of the places we’ve wanted to knock the menu.

If we do have a criticism, it would probably fall on the wine lists – or more precisely, the price list, specifically the one we encountered on the South Hill. Bottles started at $40 for reds and $30 for whites on a menu that included $10 pasta entrees. So a dinner of an appetizer and two plates of fettuccini goes from a very reasonable $30 to $70 with a bottle of wine  – before tax and tip – which might lead you to stay home and make a dish paired with a grocery-store-priced bottle.

We’re not above having a higher-end wine with a meal, but that shouldn’t be the only choice. In fact, the former restaurateur in our group won’t go to a place where that is the starting point. He knows there is money to be made with a $25 bottle. His place used to sell one bottle for every five patrons, and that counted teetotalers and kids.

If you’re serving 100 diners a night but are not selling two cases of wine, your prices are too high – but only you can answer that.

Making $20 on a bottle of wine is nice, but making $11 each on two is better, and that’s what a reasonable price list does. As we said a year ago, a reasonably priced bottle encouraged us to have seconds, but for some it’s just about being able to afford a bottle of wine for a special occasion.

At the restaurateur’s place, which featured professional European waiters, a retired employee came back to dine and visit. In the course of conversation, the question was asked what he noticed about other restaurants, now that a night out wasn’t a busman’s holiday.

Waving his arm to the room, he told his former employer, “What we take for granted, a bottle of wine on most tables, is absent in other restaurants.” His simple explanation was price. 

We’ve never been to a restaurant with a $50 filet mignon that didn’t also have an $18 chicken piccata. So why should a wine list be any different?

Former longtime S-R writer Dave Trimmer andformer restaurateur Dan Coyle forged a common bond over dinner and drink. They share recent finds and longtime favorites in this column. Reach them at daveanddan@hotmail.com.


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