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A&E >  Food

Central intelligence

Blaine says location, creativity are the keys behind his new restaurant

David Blaine wasn’t dreaming about the day he would run his own restaurant.

As his daughter approached high-school graduation, Blaine and his wife naturally began talking about the changes her departure would bring. Those conversations about the future never involved fancies of taking on extra-long hours, unpredictable schedules and broken instantaneous hot water heaters.

“The kind of ideas we were having were about having a lot less responsibility and a lot more freedom, so it didn’t make sense to be dreaming up ideas that would cause oppressive lifestyles where you’re not in control of your schedule and everything is uncertain,” he said.

So, the story of Central Food really begins with the location.

It may be somewhat tricky to find now, but it won’t be long before it sits near the heart of the growing Kendall Yards development. The building that will hold Spa Paradiso and the Inlander is now under construction next door. The apartment complexes planned nearby aren’t far behind.

From the north bank of the Spokane River, there is a view upriver to the arching Monroe Street Bridge and the downtown skyline. The Centennial Trail runs along the bank next to the restaurant. Birds in flight interrupt the view.

“I’ve been around this town long enough to know that there are not a lot of great locations,” Blaine said. “There are a lot of good locations. There are a lot of so-so locations. Truly great locations – they don’t come along all that often.”

Suddenly, all of those if-I-ran-this-place ideas Blaine had accumulated working for others seemed like they might have traction. The view, the proximity to downtown, the emerging neighborhood, and the lack of parking meters all appealed to him.

“My ideas needed the leverage of the location to make them work,” he said.

Central Food opened just before Thanksgiving. Before that, Blaine had been the chef at Latah Bistro for more than seven years, where he worked alongside sous chef Don Leonard, who also joined him at the new restaurant.

“I did not want to do a four employee, scrappy little restaurant. Remember, I wanted more freedom,” he said. “When you’re doing a restaurant like that there is no exit strategy. … I wanted to be able to come in, like I am coming in today, and my primary responsibility is baking bread. To me this is one of my favorite days of the week.”

Blaine has resisted efforts to define the restaurant or the food served there. That’s why he steered away from names that might inadvertently give people the wrong impression or make them feel limited in some way.

“People want to be able to identify what you’re all about, but we made a commitment not to be a genre, so we don’t have an ethnic food designation. We don’t have a moniker such as café or bistro or diner that helps people identify what you’re going to be. We need to find new ways to identify what we’re going to be and I think we’re getting there,” Blaine said.

The food is contemporary and ingredient driven. He hopes to become a great neighborhood restaurant, even an essential fixture. He wants people to get to know Central Food by eating there and talking to others.

“It is too complicated to think you’re going to game the system and implant in someone’s mind what you are. That is going happen on its own. I refuse to be frustrated by people getting us wrong. After you open, that is out of your hands. It will be what it is.”

Blaine added: “We’re not trying to make food that nobody has ever seen before,” he said. “We’re trying to make food that people like in a way that we should be making it in 2013. I don’t think it’s contemporary to make a dish exactly the same way you made it 20 years ago. It is easy to say that, but it is hard to define it.”

The location and view at Central Food – even the menu descriptions – might give some the impression that it is fancier than it really is. The space is sparse and simple, with large windows to take advantage of the river view. Seventy people can sit inside. There are two eating bars – one overlooks the action in the kitchen, the other is in front of the bar. When the patio opens this spring, Blaine will decide how many seats to have outside.

The open kitchen gives diners a view of every dish as it is made. Customers can see breads as they are taken from the oven and cooled on racks. A window into the cooler reveals the rhubarb jam, house-made sausages, bacon and pickles. “Nothing to hide here,” Blaine said.

Breakfast is served everyday starting at 7 a.m. and options include simple dishes such as toast, jam and cheese ($4) or oat groats with all the fixings ($6) or the more unfamiliar chicken tchoupitoulas, which includes chicken, potatoes, onions, andouille sausage, roasted peppers and a fried egg ($10) or mushroom terrine, served with bacon, poached egg and toast ($9).

Sandwiches are well-represented at lunch. The current menu includes a Dungeness crab sandwich ($13), Korean pork sandwich with Sriracha mayo ($9) and country pâte sandwich, with pork shoulder, walnuts and chicken liver pâte ($9). Vegetarians will find several options including cauliflower curry ($14) and vegan chili ($12). Sideboard options are $3 to $4 and include soups, baked beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potato jo-jos and cherry-almond quinoa salad.

Blaine plans to introduce more sharable lunch and breakfast foods, platters with breads, alongside breakfast and lunch fixings so diners can make their own little sandwiches. Soon, Sunday evening diners might find the regular menu is not offered at all and instead there’s paella or pizza.

“I keep looking for ways for food to be interactive and to break up the monotony of going out to eat,” Blaine said. “There is such a ritual and there is such a script to how these events go and we keep trying to break that down. … It is hard because people gravitate toward that routine. It makes them feel comfortable.”

Dinner is the menu that will evolve the most at Central Food. The opening menus have been most influenced by the winter season, Blaine said.

There’s the succulent slow-cooked porchetta, a pork roast served with wild mushrooms, creamy polenta and sautéed greens ($18); duck mac and cheese, made with house-cured duck breast and penne pasta topped with Wookie Hole cheese sauce, spinach and bread crumbs; and crab pad Thai ($20).

Puzzling together the menus is harder and a lot less sexy than most people think, Blaine said.

“For me it feels less like self-expression and more like finding the answer to a Sudoku. … We want to do the most affordable food that we can, but another aspect of that formula is that we are unwilling to substitute fake butter for real butter. We’re unwilling to buy cheaper grades of meat from larger distributors and all the way through. That is a tough balance, the commitment to doing things at a level that we think people want from us, but doing it at a price so that they feel like they are able to come here as often as we would like them to.”

To find Central Food, drive west on Broadway from Monroe in front of the Spokane County Courthouse. Turn left on Cedar Street and drive until you reach Summit Boulevard along the edge of the Spokane River. Central Food is just to the left at the T intersection.

Central Food is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are taken at dinner or diners can call ahead to the restaurant and they will hold a table for 15 minutes or so. Reach the restaurant at (509) 315-8036.

Café Italiano moves to former West Wing

Longtime restaurateur Peter Karatzas has moved his Café Italiano home – at least it feels that way to him.

Karatzas opened the original Café Italiano in 1989 in Kettle Falls, Wash., before moving to Colville for more than 23 years. Most recently, Karatzas ran Café Italiano at 3331 W. Indian Trail Road. It was his customers who urged him to open on the South Hill when the space that was briefly home to the West Wing of the White House Grill became available. The Indian Trail location is closed and Karatzas is still considering his options, but the new restaurant at 4334 S. Regal St. takes up all of his time. He owns Café Italiano and runs it with the help of his wife, Cherryl Ann, and two sons, Vagelie and Telly.

“It is a beautiful place here. I feel like I am finally home,” he said.

Karatzas was born on the Greek island of Kalymnos and is a classically trained chef. The menu is influenced by Italian, French, Moroccan and Greek cuisines. He loves cooking for couples who are out for an intimate evening together, he said. The restaurant is not really for families. He credits the restaurant’s reputation for fine service to waitress Deborah Serrano, who has been with him since he opened his first restaurant in the area.

He said Café Italiano has a nice basic menu, but he highlighted the ever-changing dinner specials. The new specials include Linguine Madonna, featuring baby lobster, crab, scallops, halibut, red snapper, steelhead, clams, shrimp and porcini in a Madonna saffron sauce ($24.95) and Fileto Ala Greca, black angus filet mignon medallions, sautéed with portabella mushrooms, onions, pepperoncini, garlic and feta in a wine sauce ($22.95).

Many of the ingredients at Café Italiano are imported from Rome, including several kinds of tiramisu and other rotating desserts.

“This is a love affair. This is the love of my life. I want to make people happy. I want to see their smiles,” he said.

Café Italiano is open 3 to 10 p.m. every day. No reservations are taken. Reach the restaurant at (509) 290-6943.

Spokane Santorini’s sold, closed

The Santorini’s Greek Cuisine in downtown Spokane is closed.

Reached by phone last week, owner Sally Tsakarestos would only say that they sold the restaurant, 112 N. Howard St. She would not reveal who purchased it, but said the new owners will not run it as a Greek restaurant. She expects them to make an announcement about their plans soon.

Pete and Sally Tsakarestos opened Santorini’s in 2008. They don’t have plans for another restaurant anytime soon, Sally Tsakarestos said.

Santorini’s in Coeur d’Alene, 4055 N. Government Way, is owned by Pete Tsakarestos’ parents and is not affected by the sale of the Spokane restaurant.

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