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Casino eats: Spokane Tribe’s Three Peaks Kitchen and Bar offers easy bets for lunch and dinner

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 6, 2018, 4:10 p.m.

No wall separates the gaming floor from the restaurant at the new Spokane Tribe Casino, so – sometimes – the beeps and jingly-jangly music from the slot machines can be heard over the upbeat music and din of dining sounds.

The effect makes you feel as if you’re winning even if you aren’t playing. And you certainly don’t have to place a bet or take a gamble to have a meal here.

But don’t bother counting your calories when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ calories when the meal is done. And odds are you’ll want try most, if not all, of the menu items, crafted by executive chef Blerita Kaba.

“There’s so many things to look forward to with this place,” she said, noting guests can expect to see a more refined menu at the end of the month. “Everything’s scratch-made. Local, scratch, fresh – that’s been our thing since we started.”

The Spokane Tribe Casino opened in Airway Heights in early January – and along with new opportunities for gaming are new opportunities for dining and drinking. Among them, the showpiece is Three Peaks Kitchen and Bar, which serves an eclectic array of snacks, salads, sandwiches and signature plates in a casual, contemporary and stately – but not stuffy – space.

“Our restaurant really has something for everyone,” said Joni Hay-Smith, marketing manager for the Spokane Tribe Casino, underscoring that offerings are elevated but approachable. “Every little touch makes an impression, and that’s what we want here. That boutique style of service is what sets us apart.”

Three Peaks, open daily for lunch and dinner, takes its name from three prominent summits in the region: Mount Spokane, Cayuse Mountain and Steptoe Butte. These landmarks roughly delineate the tribe’s ancestral lands.

The dining room is spacious, stretching some 5,000 square feet. The kitchen, which also serves the adjacent grab-and-go counter accessible from the casino floor, encompasses another 2,000 square feet. There’s seating for about 160 inside Three Peaks. And when the patio opens in spring, capacity will top 250.

Meantime, ask for what’s dubbed the “communion table,” which faces the kitchen and – in front of it – the final plating table, where guests “can watch me right in front of them,” Kaba said. “You basically sit with strangers and get to know them. It’s a cool concept.”

The communion table seats eight. The plan – “in about a month or two,” Kaba said – is to start offering multi-course, prix fixe chef’s whim dinners, allowing Kaba to get creative and show off her skills.

She took the helm here in November after helping launch – also as executive chef – Tortilla Union at River Park Square in downtown. The Southwestern-inspired eatery opened in 2016, the same year Kaba settled in Spokane.

Born in Albania and raised in Macedonia and Brooklyn, New York, Kaba came to the U.S. at 12 and went to work in relatives’ Italian and Mediterranean restaurants, “learning how to make pizza dough, barely speaking English.”

At 20, she headed west to help another family member open a restaurant in Arizona. Within six months, she was promoted to executive chef. Seven years later, she moved to Alaska to help another relative open another establishment, but found the Last Frontier “way too cold.”

So, in 2015 after two years in Alaska, it was off to Yakima, where Kaba took a short-term gig – doing mainly catering – with Zesta Cucina, a longtime Italian-inspired eatery. Her focus was “eight- to 14-course meals in people’s houses.” In early 2016, after a six-month stay back in Arizona, she relocated to the Inland Northwest and landed a job with Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar, which has the same owners as Tortilla Union.

At Three Peaks, she heads a culinary team of nearly 40 staffers. Another 50 or so work in the dining room and bar. “We definitely want to be very well staffed and make sure people are taken care of,” Kaba said.

To start, consider sharing pretzel bites – soft, warm, chewy, lightly salted, made fresh daily and served with cheese fondue. Or, opt for the coconut crab cakes, served with arugula and chili cream. Also of note: the chips and guacamole, which is made with Serrano pepper and jalapeño powder – and has “a great spice to it,” Kaba said.

Vegetarian and gluten-free items are denoted with symbols, but most of the sandwiches and signature plates are meaty.

Hand-helds include five burgers: cheese, turkey, bison, hickory and build-your-own. Specialty sandwiches are: steak, grilled cheese, chicken, Reuben, French dip and turkey club.

Burgers are served on wooden boards. Other entrees are presented on slate tiles.

Top-sellers include the French dip and bison burger as well as pan-seared wild salmon with saffron rice and herbed dill sauce, fish-and-chips and filet mignon with rosemary butter and garlic mash.

Other specialties are a hearty and colorful steak salad and pan-seared scallops with pear buerre blanc, chive oil, pickled radish and saffron rice. The taco salad – with romaine, guacamole, lime vinaigrette, cheese, roasted corn, black beans and Serrano peppers – is also a popular choice, Kaba said.

Desserts come from the longtime Spokane Valley-based Just American Desserts. Ice cream comes from Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle.

Menu items runs from $4 for a cup of soup to $32 for the Cowboy Ribeye with fried leeks, garlic mash and seasonal veggies. “Our prices,” Kaba said, “are very reasonable.”

Look for 50 wines under $50 – sold by the glass for $5 to $13 or by the bottle for $24 to $49 – as well as $8 signature cocktails – Moscow mule, smoked old-fashioned, cucumber gimlet, salted caramel with Crown Royal Salted Caramel whisky – and $5 pints of draft beer. There are 20 beers on tap.

Four gaming machines are embedded in the countertop at the bar, backed by two roll-top, garage-style doors which open onto a wide patio. Seating will be available outside when the weather warms up.

Tables indoors are a mix of two-, four- and eight-tops, with chairs or banquette seating – or both.

The ceiling is high and dark, with exposed duct work and suspended V-shaped wooden decorations reminiscent of eagles flying. The floor features a herringbone pattern.

Light fixtures, like hanging wire baskets, hang in the entry way. Other drop lights, with globe bulbs encircled by metal rings, dangle in the dining area. A see-through divider wall with a metal, box-like pattern separates the light and airy space, which includes a wall of windows overlooking a couple of teepee-like decorative structures and the main parking lot.

The room is done in wood and stone and warm earth tones: golden yarrow-colored banquettes, burnt-orange chairs in the bar. Black-and-white historical photos adorn some of the walls. One of the accent walls features bits of blue; the effect is like peering through the clouds at high altitude at lakes with rough-hewn shores.

In addition to the restaurant, the casino features a deli, called Speelya’s Den, and lounge, called Whaluks.

Speelya’s, next-door to Three Peaks, takes its name from the Salish word for coyote, a mischievous figure and trickster in tribal stories. The specialty here is coffee and quick bites. The walk-up counter serves espresso, muffins, cookies, bottled beverages, salads and sandwiches.

Whaluks takes its name from a traditional card game played by generations of tribal members. Eight gaming machines are embedded in the counter top at the bar, which serves local and regional beer and wine as well as craft cocktails. There are eight taps and five tall tables, each with three high-backed chairs as well as seats at the bar.