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Monday, July 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Running Tab: In defense of Spokane’s culinary scene

“Are there any good restaurants in Spokane?” the young couple from Seattle asked me, with a slight air of superiority, during a wedding reception in Northern California on June 8.

I responded without missing a beat, “Absolutely! Spokane’s food scene is burgeoning, and it’s an exciting time. Farm-to-table dining is top notch, with the freshest of vegetables and fruits. The craft beer and wine scenes are thriving. There are restaurants with excellent cocktails and views to match. I’m more than happy to recommend restaurants while you’re in Spokane.”

“Is the restaurant good by Spokane standards?” It’s another disdainful question that’s been asked to me since starting the job of food editor at The Spokesman-Review on April 29, and my answer is pretty much the same as to the first question.

I’ve always believed that great and talented chefs exist everywhere. Sure, he or she might not have fame in the form of TV shows and bestselling cookbooks and fortune in the form of millions of dollars in the bank. The chefs might not be James Beard Award winners and Michelin-star recipients.

But they’re still damn good culinary craftsman and craftswomen, and Spokane has its share. Piggybacking on my first Running Tab list of notable dining experiences in Spokane, here are more (with a few repeat mentions):

Cocktails by Cody Winfrey at Luna: The young mixologist clearly has fun creating his creative cocktails, and the RBG and Betty Draper are his nods to what he says are the strong female leaders at the South Hill institution. Meantime, Taylor Siok, Luna’s pastry chef, is reportedly making tweaks to the bread program.

Speaking of bread, David Blaine’s artisan bread at his Central Food in Kendall Yards has quickly, ahem, risen to become one of my favorites in town. You try leaving without buying a fresh-from-the-oven loaf. I also love Blaine’s bestselling Korean pork sandwich, homemade kimchi, cumin-mint quinoa and the beautiful patio views.

The Chihuly Dinner at Palm Court Grill inside the Davenport – an elegant, five-course menu by Adam Swedberg, sadly ended Sunday, but I count it as one of my first fine-dining experience in Spokane, and I hope that there are many more to come.

Peking Palace in Spokane Valley is the place to go when you want a lot of Chinese food for a reasonable price (combination plates are so large, they’ll be lunch the next day). Top of India, which offers a great Indian lunch buffet for $12.99 seven days a week, is next door. The price might be less during the week, but it was $12.99 on a recent Sunday.

Incrediburger & Eggs and the Gilded Unicorn are two recent stops at Adam Hegsted restaurants, although I’ve been to the Gilded Unicorn three times now. I introduced a colleague to solid fried pickles at Incrediburger, and the Gilded Unicorn has become a go-to spot for reverse happy hour. There needs to be more reverse happy hours.

Steam Plant’s multimillion-dollar renovation is breathtaking, beautiful and oh-so cool, and it’s a must-book reservation to impress, whether in the first-floor restaurant or the basement pub.

There might be more modern and better steakhouses in Spokane, but I am thoroughly impressed by Churchill’s Steakhouse. It’s everything one would want in an old-school steakhouse: excellent steaks and classic cocktails in a quiet and classy dining room.

Is there a better selection of poke in one place in Spokane than the poke bar at My Fresh Basket in Kendall Yards? The poke is the spot-lit star, but accompaniments include rice, seaweed, edamame and shrimp.

I didn’t know what to expect at No-Li Brewhouse, aside from solid beer, east of Gonzaga, but what I discovered is a favorite new spot with standout fish and chips, super-sized Epic Pretzel and Cauliflower Popcorn and a nice view of the Spokane River with a super-chill ambiance.

I’ve had brunch at Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar in Spokane Valley twice, but my first dinner there last weekend was intimate and flavorful. The Cajun pasta, paired with Arbor Crest riesling, was so good. I like that the entrees include suggested wine pairings.

It had been many, many years since dinner at the Elk Public House in Browne’s Addition, but a return visit Saturday night proved to be long overdue, with a French dip, cup of gumbo and grapefruit spiked Radler just what the doctor – who clearly doesn’t stick to a strict and super-healthy diet! – ordered.

Despite yours truly’s lactose intolerance, Sweet Peaks and Brain Freeze are worth the consequences. The always-on-the-menu chocolate and espresso crunch, respectively, are creamy and rich deliciousness.

And there is much to be excited about on the horizon: attending my first Crave Food and Drink Celebration from July 11-13; dining at my first Korean, ramen, pho, fried chicken, Mongolian and soul food restaurants since relocating to Spokane; sampling new menus at new restaurants by Hegsted and Chad White; new restaurants making their debuts in coming months; and more.

Two areas of improvement

Spokane’s culinary scene isn’t perfect – really, there is no perfect culinary scene – and there is always room for improvement. In chatting with chefs in Spokane, there are two areas in which we agree:

Spokane needs more fine dining. Chefs should be allowed to charge more for finer dining with the finest ingredients, but patrons needs to support these fine dining establishments, as well.

Customer service at the front end – hosts, bartenders and servers – is spotty. Excellent customer service will always elevate a dining experience, but I’ve experienced lethargic bartenders, aggressive waiters, dour servers and downright rude hosts. There is no excuse for it. We all have bad days, but the customer should always be the most important person in the room. Leave the baggage at home.

On Tap with Rick Bonino

Rick Bonino’s final On Tap column was June 11, as he noted in his last On Tap. All of us thank him for his many years of service, his many On Tap columns and his excellent coverage of the craft beer scene. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and he will be missed. We’re still finalizing plans, but rest assured that coverage of craft beer will continue in The Spokesman-Review.

Finally, from my first Running Tab column May 24 because it bears repeating: Let’s dive deep into Spokane’s food scene together. Let’s enjoy the classics, as well as discover new and exciting restaurants and menu offerings. I welcome your suggestions at donc@spokesman.com.

And yes, Virginia, there are good … no, great … restaurants in Spokane.

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