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Satay Bistro brings eclectic excellence to Coeur d’Alene

I remember when the building first went up, a few years ago. With its elaborate brick exterior and rounded front wall, it stood out on a patch of asphalt between a Taco Time and a music store on Fourth Street in Coeur d’Alene, just north of the freeway. When a sign went up announcing an Italian deli was coming soon, I waited in anticipation. And waited. Soon, the Italian deli sign went down, and the real estate signs went up.

And the brand new building sat empty.

Then last year, Rob Elder opened Satay Bistro in the unused space, bringing an eclectic collection of “American fusion” dishes to the Coeur d’Alene food scene.

It’s a most welcome addition.

On a recent visit, my husband and I found Satay packed on a Friday night in January – a good sign for any restaurant, especially one located outside Coeur d’Alene’s fine dining cores, downtown and Midtown. It’s a cozy room, filled with interesting architectural details. A spiral staircase leads to the wine cellar below, which patrons can see through a clear Plexi-glass panel in the floor. The bar area is topped with an awning of sorts, constructed of wrought iron and wine bottles.

“American fusion” can mean a lot of things, and with a name like “Satay,” one would expect to see a lot of Asian influences on the menu. One wouldn’t be wrong. But there are also plenty of Italian flavors, and a section of the menu devoted to tapas, indicating a fondness for the Mediterranean.

We started with a satay – Thai peanut chicken ($7.95) – and one of their signature “spoons” from the tapas menu, with Chilean sea bass ($9.95). We found the four chicken skewers perfectly cooked and served alongside a delicious peanut sauce. It was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, allowing the peanut flavors to shine. The spoons are just that – a platter of four Asian-style spoons topped with sea bass, a chili oil marinade and shallot lime juice. It was very tasty – crisp and cool, with a nice crunchy bite from a sliver of red onions. Its coolness offered a perfect counterbalance to the spicy satay.

Afterward came the house bread – an unsliced mini loaf with a dill-garlic-butter sauce poured over it. It was an impressive presentation and delicious, if a little messy to eat.

For our entrees, we ordered the Seafood Abruzzi, housemade black fettuccine and spicy tomato sauce with prawns and scallops ($24.95), and the filet mignon with roasted baby vegetables and a Yukon gold fontina gratin ($19.95).

The pasta was flavorful and perfectly cooked to al dente. The sauce? Spicy and delicious. My shrimp were a tad overcooked, but the scallops were perfect, with a creamy texture and full of flavor.

And the filet? My husband’s plate came with a 10-ounce portion – about the size of a large baking potato – of beef, well seasoned and expertly cooked. The gratin was a sight to behold. It stood about 5 inches tall, and looked more like a large triangular pastry. The individual layers of potatoes were distinct, lending it a welcome flakiness. This was no oozy, cheesy mess of a gratin. The fontina serves as an accent, and it’s the Yukon gold potatoes that stand out.

The best part about the filet? The price. My husband’s entrée was $20 – a steal for filet mignon, and a deal our waiter hinted wouldn’t last for long. This is a “get it while you can” proposition.

Speaking of our waiter, we found the service at Satay to be attentive, but not fawning. Upon our arrival, we were handed a long list of house “saketinis,” cocktails made with sake. At a loss to pick and choose, we asked our waiter to surprise us. He came back with the Thai basil drink for my husband and the raspberry champagne for me. My drink was sweet and wonderful. The Thai basil was refreshing and grassy tasting, with strong flavors of cucumbers and basil. And easy drinking. My husband noted that he could see himself drinking six of those without blinking.

We left Satay full and happy, and vowing to return. Satay quickly has become one of the best places in Coeur d’Alene to eat.