Thursday, June 26, 2014

Guest Review: Applebee's

280 W. Hanley Ave, Cd'A

A Facebook friend of mine braved Applebee's this evening and shared this rather shady experience:

My significant other and I went out for a little celebration dinner and it was late so we went to Applebee's. They had a good happy hour price on drinks ($4 jaeger bombs) and the waitress was super real honest about how the food was gonna be.She talked us out of 2 for 20 and recommended the rather bland portobello mushroom chicken thing which my significant other had. 

I ordered the pasta and three cheese with chicken thing which she warned "has a lot going on flavor wise". It was like a crazy experiment I would have tried in college. It was mac and cheese with watered down maple syrup poured over it and chicken strips and bacon bits thrown on top. 

The quesadilla appetizer had just enough cheese to hold the mystery meat filling to the lower tortilla leaving the other tortilla to fend for itself all dry and tasteless. Also it became a joke that none of the silverware was clean at all. 

After bringing us several new utensil sets we chose the least soiled ones to eat with and sent back the ones with the largest most recognizable food chunks.

Our waitress said "you have to go to Chili's to get clean silverware". She went on to explain "at least the silverware is sanitary it goes through an extremely hot sanitation process in the dishwasher so the food that's stuck to it is definitely clean." Lol!

Luckily the drink special and cool candid server kept us in a good mood or we would have flipped out.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mexican Food Factory (Revisited)

Mexican Food Factory
1032 N 4th St., CdA
(208) 664-0079

I've been strolling into the Mexican Food Factory, one of Cd'A's oldest (if not THE oldest) Mexican eateries, since the 1980's or so. A longtime favorite of mine, I gave it the old Get Out North Idaho treatment with a review in December of 2007. Hold up. Almost seven years ago? Lawdy, slow down Father Time, you're making me dizzy and I can't keep up!

Anyway, in my review, which was written back when these things were actually published in the Sunday Spokesman-Review, I gushed about the lovely deep-fried oil scent that permeated the air inside. I mentioned the delight of witnessing the tight-knit staff in action, their friendly banter adding to the organic feel of the restaurant. And I practically melted like cheese while talking about their enchiladas and tamales, describing their food as the best Mexican I'd ever had north of San Jose, Cali-forn-i-a.

Of course, I've dined at the Mexican Food Factory several times since then, but it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed they'd cut my review out of the paper all those years ago, framed it, and hung it on the wall. I always find it very sweet when I see this but, my dear Mexican Food Factory, I must warn you. Unfortunately, my experience at your restaurant yesterday has left me with the distinct impression that things in your eatery have gone severely pear-shaped, and you may not want to tack this particular review up on your wall in a cute little frame.

I don't know, It just wasn't the same. Certainly everyone deserves a day off, and maybe that was the case, but the familiar friendly faces (mainly the owner and his buddy that worked there forever and ever) that I mentioned in my old review were nowhere around, replaced by a set of random teenagers who seemed diligent but detached, present in the room physically, but whose eyes and robotic demeanor led me to believe they were either stuck in a permanent daydream or had crossed that line with one too few cups of coffee for breakfast.

Not that they did anything specifically wrong, they just didn't have the banter and nuance of the previous staff, who were older, more experienced, and much more down-to-earth with a clear invested interest in making sure they were projecting positive energy and putting out a great product. Still, the girl who took my order and delivered it to my table was friendly enough, and even more so after she (I think) realized that I was the guy in the photo in the newspaper review clipping on the wall.

Sentimental value is real nice and all, but the decor inside the dining room is exactly as it was in 2007, which was most likely how it was in 1997 get the idea. It's not totally super tacky in there or anything, but it seems stale and dated, and if I were in charge of that situation, I would have given the place some fresh love and redecorated ages ago. Minor complaint, but sometimes these things make a large impact on customers' likelihood to return after a long absence.

I wasn't in the mood for anything too heavy and saucy before work (I'm heavy and saucy enough myself). I just wanted something simple, satisfying and quick. Admittedly, my order of two regular old ground beef tacos and a small chips-n-cheese was very basic, but I figure that if a restaurant can't tackle their simplest menu items with panache, it's highly likely there are going to be problems all the way up to the most intricate and expensive items.

And speaking of expensive. Oh. My. Gawd. What on earth is going on with the prices on Mexican Food Factory's menu? Seriously. I can see paying these prices for something very uppity and tapas-y and gourmet and chi-chi and whatever other synonyms for "fancy" you prefer to insert here. However, weighing the amount I paid against what landed in front of me, I could have gone to (shudders) Taco Hell for a more satisfying meal at a more realistic price.

Yes, I realize it is the ultimate cruelty to compare a Mexican restaurant's output to a garbage-gut factory such as Taco Bell, but the MFF truly took me down that path and left me feeling disappointed, bewildered, and a little taken advantage of. The quality of the product has very noticeably slipped while the prices have climbed like kudzu on the side of a broke-down Georgia whorehouse. This place has posted a sign which throws shade at the local taco trucks for having more health code violations on record than their zero, but my wallet tells me it would prefer to seek more authentic, delicious Mexican food at a realistic price, despite the risk of an occasional extended stay on the cool porcelain throne.

My two crispy tacos were $2.75 each. Maybe that doesn't seem like it's going to break the bank but here's what I got. Regular old industrial store-bought taco shells. Once upon a time I swear they were pan-fried on premise with fresh tortillas deep fried to perfection, creating that delicious soul-satisfying deep cooking oil aura in the room. I did notice on their facebook page that the authentic pan-fried tacos currently limited to only Fridays. Both my tacos didn't have their generic-brand shells survive beyond the first bite without breaking into shards, leaving me to fork up a very pedestrian pseudo taco-salad.

A small hint of lettuce was splayed gingerly on top (no tomatoes to be found, just lettuce), a vague sprinkling of shredded cheddar was implied, and the taco meat was so utterly bland and boring it made me wonder if they'd been robbed of all their spice jars by a cruel and savage flavor thief in the middle of the night. I even took a forkful of that taco meat by itself, just to make sure my tongue wasn't having a reverse hallucination or something. Sure enough, it tasted like plain unseasoned ground beef. The love! What happened to the love? Their taco meat used to be legendary.

When I placed my order, I requested a side of sour cream (fifty cents) to go with my chips and cheese. I even said "could I get a side of sour cream to go with my chips and cheese?". Instead, the sour cream ended up on my tacos, and I had to look at my receipt again to realize I had been charged fifty cents per taco for this mistake.

I don't mind sour cream on my tacos, but this was a gigantic mess - they had smeared a squirt of sour cream atop the top layer of lettuce and then they wrapped the tacos tightly in yellow paper (why? I didn't order my food to go!), so the sour cream ended up stuck to the taco paper, congealed there with the lettuce in globs instead of in my taco. Not fun and very messy to try to unsuccessfully scrape it off the paper and shove it back in to where it belonged. Ugh.

Taco Bell may not be a five star dining experience, but their tight quality control would never allow for a customer to suffer through a sour cream mess such as this. I realize I'm beating this point like a dead burro into the ground, but at $1.39, a crunchy taco supreme at the Bell is a much better value at half the price of the similar-in-size but inferior in taste Mexican Food Factory specimen. Sad but true.

The chips and cheese were exactly that: tortilla chips, which were okay but I'm not convinced they were as fresh-made as they once were, and a small amount of melted, microwaved cheddar served in a little American Flag paper boat (what, no Mexican Flag boats?). Some might have balked at the uneven distribution of the cheese within the chips, but personally I kind of like huge semi-melted globs of cheese to chew on like salty bubblegum. I'm weird like that.

Still, most of my chips were served  bare naked and cheese-free and would have been better with the side of sour cream as I'd requested. The clincher here is that this wee, simple item comes at a cost of $3.95. Seriously, I could probably go to Winco and spend $4 on a bag of tortilla chips and a chunk of cheese that would allow me to indulge myself on ALL the cheese globs til siesta. Again, the cost vs. value simply does not measure up.

So, to sum up my bill, I had two basic boring tacos and small snack boat of tortilla chips with maybe 1/2 cup cheddar, plus a $2 Mexicali Cerveza for $13.68. Now, that isn't enough money to land on the fainting couch about, but I left feeling like I'd been a bit bent over the proverbial barrel. On a more positive note, the highlight of my lunch was Mexican Food Factory's unbeatable hot sauce, which I poured heavily on everything while resisting the temptation to stick the bottle's nozzle in my mouth and give it a squeeze like it was a baby baba full of Patron tequila. Mmm, this was the one thing that was as delicious as I remember and fortunately, they sell bottles of it to go so you can pick some up then go douse your Taco Bell Quesarito with the stuff. (Meow!)

I know I shouldn't be so bitchy without revisiting some of their other more elaborate menu items, but like I said, if they can't do basic items well, I'm not so sure I'm willing to spend $10.45 on an "enchilada style" burrito or whatever. I'd really like to think I'm just being way overly harsh and grouchy with the MFF and that I just visited them on an off day (when they totally spaced spicing their meat) and that I know such items such as the Beef Colorado Burrito ($6.50) or Fish Taco ($5.50) or Tamales ($8.50) are more than likely as delicious and legendary as ever.

And when I am in the mood for a heavier lunch, I shall return for a more signature item of theirs and the MFF will reign victorious and I will re-evaluate and update this review with all the good news I can fit. At least I hope so, for I find it rather depressing that such a beloved local food institution could fall so hard, so fast. But, for now I am left with a deflated heart and emptied wallet and an unexplainable hankering for a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco Supreme.

Post note: ...and apparently I'm not alone with my less-than-astronomical opinion of the MFF recently. I posted a short blip about my mediocre experience on my personal facebook page yesterday, and received the following comments. I think I can speak for the others here when I say: We love you, Mexican Food Factory, please take heed of this review and these comments and do a Gordon Ramsay style rescue on yourselves before it's too late!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Golden Corral

Golden Corral
3458 N. Fruitland Lane, CdA
(208) 665-5628

When rumors started fluttering around that Coeur d'Alene was next in line on Golden Corral's short list of places to build a restaurant, an oddly numerous amount of local folks started freaking out with excitement. Granted, our town hasn't had a corporate buffet style eatery, I can't even remember.

I think the last local entry into the World of Many Sneezeguards was Granny's up in the dog end of the Silver Lake Mall, which mercifully died at least a decade ago. So, it's been awhile since Coeur d'Aleneians have been able to give up on life via sweatpants and five hours taking gluttonous trips to the trough of bland, sub-cafeteria style foodstuffs.

If you're one of these buffet queens yourself, I'm sure you're glowing bright with joy that the Cd'A Golden Corral has finally hung their "line starts here" sign and have flung open their doors for business. I'd been to the North Spokane Corral several years ago and I'd be lying if I said I walked out of there in fits of culinary bliss.

In fact, it was so blah, even bleh, that I couldn't wrap my brain around why people think the place was worth getting worked into a frenzy about. After my maiden visit to the new Cd'A restaurant, I certainly can't say I've had any major positive breakthroughs in regards to my opinion of the place.

The Golden Corral buffet concept was hatched in West Virginia in January 1973, and 41 years later, there are over 500 locations all over everywhere. I'd imagine that the Cd'A location is a typical specimen, but I did find it odd that the very first thing one encounters immediately after wandering inside and getting in queue is not a hostess, or even a cashier, but a tall pile of clear plastic cups and a row of soda pop dispensers. Yes, you pour yourself a beverage (at $1.99 for a bottomless situation) while in line to pay.

There's only one option here once you're face to face with the cashier: buffet buffet buffet. I arrived at lunchtime and my total came to exactly $11.11, including my Mountain Dew. In a sea of 73% senior citizens, it wasn't easy to find a table which promised any semblance of peace and privacy, so I just went for the gusto and took a seat right in the middle of it all.

I landed between a solo dining gentleman whose Dep-drowned hairdo must have made all the ladies go tingly in 1958 but was now a grey, slightly askew birds nest, and a physically shaky couple in their eighties who both had their daily pharmaceuticals laid out neatly before them, ready to swallow with a spoonful of instant mashed potatoes and gravy. "Eileen! Take your goddamn crazy pill", coughed the man at one point, struggling to point a wedge of pink ham into his face with his 6.2 Richter Scale hand.

My waitress Miss Katie shashayed by with the promise of unlimited soda refills and instantaneous evacuation of my rejected, dirty plates, and her service was weary but excellent. I fought off a couple of bratty, unsupervised grandchildren and grabbed an industrial plastic plate from the giant stack.

Round One: salad bar. You've got to a little careful with the salad portion of a corporate buffet experience; salad can be deceptively filling and the last thing you would want to do is devote the majority of space in your intestinal tract to leafy greens and veggies that may actually provide some kind of vitamins and healthful benefits. No, you need to save most of your tummy space for processed and deep fried crap.

So I used the tongs to gingerly place a light dusting of spring greens atop my artfully minimalist chunks of iceberg lettuce. There's a lot of stuff to choose from, nothing unusual for a standard salad bar, but I tried to keep it simple with just some mushrooms, carrots, olives, and sunflower seeds with Caesar dressing. Not bad, but it's hard to rate a self-created salad situation as either toot or boot. I also tried the seashell pasta salad, which was surprisingly OK, but naturally it pales next to my mother's version, which I had just enjoyed at a BBQ a few days before. Winner's column! Last up for Round One, a couple of deviled eggs that were THE most boring deviled eggs in the universe, no tang, no twang, just bland and slightly rubbery. Not today, Satan, not today.

Round Two: Pardon my (non) français, but there is a LOT of shit to choose from when approaching the main heat tables at the Corral, and I mean that quite literally. So, it's kind of a game where you eyeball an item and try to suss out whether or not it's going to a) taste okay and b) give you a case of painful gastroenteritis. I suppose if you frequent the place (and many of the patrons I encountered seemed like they make it a daily event), you would kind of get to know what's good and what's full of hate. But I wasn't even sure where to begin with it all, so I just took random grabs of this and that and hoped for the best.

Each item in brief: "Spicy Pagoda Pork". From the tiny "Asian" section, this was anything but spicy, anything but flavorful, and covered in some kind of spongy sliminess. The pork (I hope it was actually pork) was like chewing on a chunk of someone's cold elbow. If it was possible for a food item to have the opposite of flavor, the Spring Roll, which surely came instead  from the winter of our discontent, had it.

The Mac n Cheese was crying, CRYING, for some salt and once I did that it almost reached the front gate of the realm of frozen microwaved Stouffers Mac n Cheese. I do like Brussels sprouts, and these Brussels sprouts tasted pretty nice and buttery, but their texture was like a optical illusion for the mouth - it looked like a solid but was mushier on the palate than a jar of Gerbers.

The melancholy and pointless red potatoes (flecked with suicidal flakes of dry parsley) were approximately 57% cooked through, so they had a raw earthy crunch. Far more enjoyable, perhaps the first enjoyable item since the green salad, was the cheesy garlic bread strip, which was a bit on the limp side but had a thick and yummy layer of mozzarella and a significant bang of what at least tasted like real garlic. Winner's column!

It takes someone with a real culinary purple thumb to turn a simple comfort food like meat loaf into a DIScomfort food like the meat loaf offered at Golden Corral. It would be unkind to pick on the wearisome taste buds of our senior community, but this product was clearly designed for their pleasure and their pleasure only. After two quick nibbles, I became convinced that this meat loaf was jointly sponsored by the Soy Council of Canada and Iams ProActive Health Large Breed Dog Food, bereft of flavor, crumbly and dry like a stale granola bar. I. Just. Can't.

The "Awesome Pot Roast" wasn't, like, totally tubular or anything, but it was a hair more edible than most of what had come before, closer to Marie Callender's frozen than Budget Gourmet frozen. The hush puppy was at least semi-passable in that it tasted like a ball of wet air fried in fresh oil, but at least the oil was fresh and a ball of fried anything is going to be at least semi-passable.

Round Three. Overall, I had the most rewarding moments of the whole Golden Corral experience with this brief round. The Mini Steak Burger was actually done incredibly well. The juicy beef patty had a sufficient thickness and was grilled to a perfect medium rare. The pickle was a nice touch and the bun had a nice brioche-ness to it. Winner's column! Tasty deep-fried popcorn shrimp is a hard item to screw up and they didn't! Winner's column! My tongue woke up fully with the delicious steak fries. OMG! Finally! Salt! Winner's column! Lemony, buttery asparagus cooked to a toothsome, non-mushy consistency! Winner's column! And a yummy tart strawberry. Winner's column!

It's easy to lose track of time when you're inside a slow-motion day-mare like Golden Corral, so when I looked at my iPhone and realized it was 12:24 I panicked a little. I had an optometrist appointment at 12:30, so I had to wrap things up quick. If there was one thing I had learned from my previous experience with the Spokane Golden Corral, it was that the dessert bar alone was pretty much worth the price of admission. So, I decided my optometrist could wait and headed over to the "Brass Bell Bakery" section of the restaurant to do a quick graze-through.

As far as I could notice, the Cd'A Corral doesn't have one of the chain's infamous chocolate fountains, which was a slight disappointment. With the clock-a-ticking, and minimal time to really go deep with the MANY sweets on offer, I just went right for the vanilla/chocolate swirl soft serve with hot fudge, a rice krispies treat, and the worlds most microscopic slice of cheesecake. All very nice, very nice indeed. Winners column! If I could have gotten away with it, I'd have stuffed my pockets full of krispie treats, cookies, etc. on my way out the door, but the eye doctor was waiting, so I just had to blow Miss Katie a goodbye kiss and book out the door.

Like I said earlier, if you decide to give in to Golden Corral, it needs to be visited with some regularity just to figure out what's hot and what's not and what hits the spot and what gives the gut rot. I had a fair level of success with some of the items, but others made me long for the days of having "lunch" with my grandma at the LaCrosse Health and Rehabilitation Center cafeteria. Personally, I doubt I will devote the future time, dollars and nerves into making Golden Corral a very regular haunt.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

North Idaho's Most Interesting...Burgers

Having recently indulged in a bit of Schmidty's love (see full review), now seems like as good a time as any to pop out a list delving into that most gorgeous and versatile of American culinary staples, the burger. From a Mickey D's lowly atomic hockey puck to a $38 gourmet specimen made with beef from cows that were hand massaged by naked and sweaty Japanese men and sprinkled with white truffles, we carnivores simply cannot resist the savory flavor of a hamburger patty piled with various random other accouterments and stuck in a bun.

As you may have already gathered, there are plenty of unique and noteworthy burgers to be found right up here in ye olde Idaho panhandle. By the way, I'm skipping over a popular 107-year-old downtown CdA burger joint. Too obvious, and while beloved and delicious (especially with gobs of that spicy ketchup and mustard), just kinda basic.

Cut to five blocks east from that particular establishment and sashay into Scratch (501 Sherman Ave, CdA) for a Snake River Farms Kobe Burger, eight hefty ounces of tender, fatty beef. At $16, it also comes with the heftiest price tag of any burger I could find in the area. The fancy doesn't stop with the meat. Balsamic onions, goat cheese, marinated tomato, and baby spinach also make an appearance between this one's buns. Shoot, that almost sounds healthy or something. If I'm going to plop down that much cash for burger, I want something that's going to make me reach for the Lipitor.

Like the music of Tom Waits, Gouda cheese is kind of an acquired taste, and I've got a lot of love for both. A nice Gouda can emit an odor reminiscent of an unwashed sock that's been through a hardcore workout or two, if you know what I mean. Once you make it past that particular pungency barrier, it has a rich, nutty flavor that likely serves as a perfect compliment to the sauteed onions, bacon, and spicy BBQ sauce it joins on the Gouda Ciabatta Burger served at MickDuff's Brewing Co. (312 North First Ave, Sandpoint). Ah, yes. Umami overload alert!

Nosworthy's Sluggo Burger
Nosworthy's Hall of Fame (4045 N Govt Way CdA) features the pork-a-riffic Sluggo Burger decribed on their menu as "piled high with ham & bacon. Clugston's favorite - formerly known as the Miss Piggy" ($10.50). I don't know who this Clugston fellow is, but I have a feeling Miss Piggy wouldn't be too happy about the rename, and if he has anything to do with that decision, he ought to be expecting a "Hi-ya" karate chop to the knees. But looking at this photo of the beast itself, with its healthy pile of delicious pork products, maybe she should just be thankful she's not involved anymore.

I remember one hazy summer evening when I was about 8 years old and my grandmother, hearing sirens and spotting smoke in the sky coming from the general downtown area, dragged me by the hand to the corner of 4th & Sherman where a large crowd was already gathered. Disaster! Our favorite store Woolworth's was a blazing inferno, all our comforting retail memories going up in clouds of smoke into the sky before our very eyes. The remaining rubble was eventually razed and replaced by a tiny park.

For some reason or another, the Corner Cafe in Post Falls (203 E Seltice Way) has a burger named after this long-ago incident. The Woolworth Fire Burger is a 1/3 pound burger, topped with onion straws, pepper jack, jalapenos, with pickle, lettuce, and tomato, and mayo ($8.59). So it has a few jalapenos and some wussy-ass pepper jack thrown on it. That heat could never match the actual Woolworth fire heat that melted all the 45 RPM records and turned all the magazines and comic books into ash. No, I'm sure makes for quite a tasty meal.

For you smarty pants that don't indulge in the sweet pink flesh of dead animals, Trinity at City Beach (58 Bridge St, Sandpoint) has you covered with their Root Vegetable Burger. Seven kinds of roots, walnuts and spices, breaded and fried on a fresh toasted Kaiser roll with jalapeno mayo, pickled red onions, spinach and Gouda cheese. ($10.50) Is Gouda cheese a happening trend? Anyway, this sounds delicious even for bloodthirsty creature eaters like myself.

Another menu item at Trinity that has my teeth juices flowing is the Popper Burger, described as an "all beef patty grilled & topped with sliced fresh jalapenos, cream cheese, cilantro, fresh squeezed lime juice and honey chipotle mayo on a toasted burger bun." ($11) Oh no they better don't! With this masterstroke of genius, they've managed to combine two of my favorite guilty pleasures: a fat ass burger and the always addictive jalapeno popper. I'm even willing to forgive their use of 2007's old buzzword "chipotle" and wrap my tongue around this burger anytime.

Penny's Pit's The Gosman
I've yet to actually visit Penny's Pit Pub & Lounge (14319 Hwy 53, Rathdrum), but following them on facebook is like a parade of amazingly creative, gigantic burgers that make me want to gas up and head up north to Rathdrumville. Most notable (for sheer size at least) is The Gosman ($12.59). This burger was apparently masterminded by a brilliant customer by that name. I was so impressed my this creation that I tried facebook stalking this Gosman guy to tell him he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for Burger Insanity, but alas I couldn't find him.

I mean, look at it! Double patties, double bacon, fried egg, onion rings, fire buffalo sauce, bleu cheese dressing, jalapeno, handful of fries, double pepper jack cheese, and Penny's house sauce. How do they expect anyone besides a water buffalo to even begin taking a bite of that beautiful pile of calories? I will need a knife, fork, small shovel, 31 napkins, and several take out boxes, but damn it, finishing a Gosman burger is high on my bucket list and I know I can do it!

Wallace's Fainting Goat (316 Bank St) puts a twist into the boring old basic burger scene by venturing outside of the beef realm and into the elk. Personally, I've always been a bit standoffish about wild game meats. Gamey tastes turn me off and also, I'm still suffering from the childhood trauma of dealing with poor Bambi's Mom, taken out brutally by an off-screen hunter for the sake of what? To be served with a side of brussel sprouts and Rice-a-Roni? Not right.

Anyway, I'd be willing to face my fears and try out Fainting Goat's Elk Sliders - 3 sliders served on homemade steak rolls with sweet & spicy tomato jam and baby arugula ($11). I had to Google "steak rolls" (sort of fatter, flatter hot dog buns), and the tomato jam sounds just piquant enough to cover any suspicious gaminess. Very sorry, Bambi's Mom (did she even have a name?). I think your mystery hunter might be winning me over after all.

Michael D's Eatery
Michael D's (203 CdA Lake Dr, CdA) is known primarily for their ultra dank breakfast platters (three cheers for the Honnell Special!), but they do remain open until 2 pm and they've got some terrific lunch items on the menu as well. I've enjoyed several of their burgers, and they do them well, but there's one that makes my eyebrows twitch and go true north on my face.

The Marsala Burger carries this explanation: "Smothered in mushrooms marinated with Marsala wine and creamy American cheese" ($11.50). Mmmkay. I love mushrooms and in certain contexts I love American cheese and I most certainly LOVE Marsala wine. But I'm having a hard time with the idea of putting these particular flavor profiles together with a burger on a bun.

Wine and cheese are great together but pairing the oak-y booze taste of Marsala with the artificially creamy taste of plastic-wrapped orange slices of cheese just makes my mind blip a little. Maybe it's some of that frou-frou fancy American cheese (it must exist).Here's a case of -try-it-and-see, which I will do sometime, and I expect it to work like anything else Michael D's does, quite fantastically.

I wouldn't want to leave you without giving you a virtual whiff of the stank of pure onion breath. All the way out in East Hope, Sweet Lou's (477272 N Hwy 95) is serving up the AWN-YAWN and hard in the form of it's aptly named Ultimate Onion Burger ($9.99). Ground steak patty with fried onions, pickled onions, and smoked onion ranch with jack cheese. Why stop there? Let's throw on some Jack-n-the-Box onion rings, maybe a few of those pickled baby onions you put in cocktails, some Funyons for crunch, and a bowl of French Onion soup to dip it all in. No, I love onions so to me this is like cake to a chubby kid. Wait, Onion Cake. Let's slap a slice of that on there too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Schmidty's Burgers

Schmidty's Burgers
206 N. 4th St, Coeur d'Alene

I was parked on Sherman Avenue killing some time before a business meeting, playing Candy Blast Mania on my phone (because Candy Crush is so over.) Suddenly I've got Cd'A Mayor Steve Widmyer running across the street headed my direction.

"Hey, are you still writing reviews, because I just checked out that new burger place up here and I thought it was pretty good. You ought to check it out". A week earlier, I'd had a Facebook message from longtime city councilman Woody McEvers telling me he missed my reviews. "Daaaaamn Gina" I thought as the merry mayor carried on into the morning with his business. "If the government is getting involved, I'd better get on it and start cranking out a food review or two every now and again!"

My birthday had arrived a few days later, and my dad came to scoop me up for our regular annual birthday lunch. "Did you have anywhere in particular in mind?" I asked, hopping into his truck. "Well, I was thinking about someplace new, like the Golden Corral or something." I shuddered a bit and answered, "How about 'or something'". I laid out to him the many various nightmare elements involved with navigating a newly-opened chain buffet restaurant like GC and told him the news about Schmidty's, suggesting that idea instead. And off we went.

Schmidty's Burgers hung an open sign on their front door a month or so ago in the former home of Scrud's Gourmet Grub near the corner of 4th and Lakeside. When the owners of Scrud's decided to pack their spatulas and vintage sodas and return to their homeland of Utah last fall, their many fans cried real oniony tears. Personally, I'm still kind of pissed about the whole deal. They turned us all into addicts of their jawdroppingly fabulous burgers, then despite their immense popularity, they turned their backs on their faithful junkie hordes and disappeared without any sort of legitimate excuse. I will forevermore mourn deeply for the artichoke heart, bacon, jalapeno and cream cheese/parmesan stuffed Coeur'Alene Burger. Sigh.

So, when a new burger place with a somewhat similar name opens in the same spot, it's hard not to try and compare the two. Based on my birthday visit, I can say that Schmidty's is certainly no Scrud's, but taken on its own it's a mighty fine establishment which provides an experience quite worth having repeatedly and often.

When we arrived, the room was peaceful and quiet-ish with two other tables full of lunch-goers at around 11:30 am. I like what they've done with the place so far, with the calm watery blues of a fresh repaint covering over the customer-sponsored graffiti that was starting to look so ghetto on the Scrud's walls. Otherwise not much has really changed, in fact the ancient booths here have been through at least four different tenants and could really use a little love.

The menu itself feels a little bare bones. Nine burgers are listed, including the Schmidty Burger (pepperjack, jalapenos, spicy mayo, $10.69), Mushroom Swiss (with grilled portabello, $10.59) the Grumpy Burger (American cheese and all the fixings with "grumpy sauce", $9.49), and the ultra caloriffic Hangover Burger (hashbrown patty, American cheese, fried egg, Canadian bacon, $10.79). A slider trio is available for the indecisive ($9.49), with a few salads and appetizers such as drumsticks and loaded cheese fries rounding things out.

And you're probably thinking "wowee zowee, those prices are kinda high, is it worth it?" When our lunch baskets arrived at our table I was thinking the same thing. We have become so used to humongous portions these days, that when we are actually able to finish our meals without having to ask for a to-go box, we feel slightly cheated. But no, I think Schmidty's portion size was just right and we left feeling sufficiently full in our bellies and with gleaming happy taste buds to boot.

My burger of choice was the "Mrs. Schmidty's", which I ordered loudly and proudly despite the risk of emasculation. To me, it was the most interesting choice on the menu, with a sweet vs. spicy combination of pineapple, Canadian bacon, lettuce, red onion, banana peppers and Swiss ($10.69). My dad, always trying hard to watch his caloric intake (can you imagine?), ordered the basic grilled chicken burger ($8.79). We were offered our choice of three styles of bun (I can't remember the other two, but we both chose onion buns), and fries or onion rings (we both chose the latter).

The thick beef patty in my Mrs. Schmidty's was so dense with flavor, as if she'd had a wild, juicy love affair with Mr. Worcestershire or some other kind of rich, good looking guy. The bright flavor of the pineapple ring rubbed against the mild bang of the banana peppers in a singular scrumptious effort, and the melty Swiss and thin-cut Canadian bacon provided the swingin' background muzak in this elevator to burger joy. Good stuff. Only six hand-battered onion rings came along for the ride, but they were delightful and crisp, made even better by the tangy fry sauce accompanying them.

My father inhaled his chicken sandwich before I'd even gotten too deep into my basket, saying it was one of the tastiest and freshest he'd had in recent memory. He chased it with a nice cold bottle of Shock Top, one of the small selection of beers Schmidty's offers. He seemed surprised that I hadn't ordered an adult beverage myself, but it wasn't even noon yet on my birthday and I had a long LONG day/night of crazy adventures ahead of me (and it did get crazy, but I'll save those sordid details for another time).

Our waitress wasn't overly dynamic in her approach, but sometimes that's a nice way to do it, and her attentiveness and friendly attitude were tops. She brought me a nice TALL icy glass of Pepsi, which I appreciate since I don't have to worry about timing refills as much, and she had read my mind by asking if I needed fry sauce right when I was thinking "Hmm, I think  need fry sauce." At the end of it all, she attempted to upsell us a dessert (no idea what that might have been since dessert isn't listed on the menu), but there was no way. I'd initially worried about not having enough food to satisfy my gaping maw, but afterwards I don't think I could've even fit as much as a Tootsie Roll down there.

I like Schmidty's, and I may not return to visit quite as much as I did with Scrud's, but I think they will do just fine. Some restaurant or another eventually has to stay put in that seemingly cursed location, and I sincerely hope that in a year's time I'm not writing a review about whatever place moves in after Schmidty's has gone pear shaped. I want this one to stick around awhile. Mr. Mayor, you were correct. Schmidy's just might be a keeper.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Get Out Goes West: Thai Kitchen

Thai Kitchen
621 S. Pines Rd.
Spokane Valley, WA
(509) 926-8161
Thai Kitchen on Facebook

While it's always important to exercise a certain level of patience, and while the horrid cliche that good things come to those who wait might be true, it's not always quite so easy-peasy.

For example, delicious mangoes can take quite awhile to ripen enough to eat, but the sweet juiciness makes it worth it in the end. Counting the minutes until season two of Orange Is The New Black finally appears on Netflix has been nothing short of torturous, but in a few short months we will finally learn Piper's fate. Or, the years-long wait until you get that final letter from Sallie Mae letting you know your student loans are paid in full. Must be such a great feeling, one that I will likely never experience myself, unfortunately.

I've got something else to add to the list -  the simply divine cuisine at Thai Kitchen out in the Spokane Valley. Recently, I had to jet over that-a-way to give my roommate a ride to work after his car went on the fritz. We left in plenty of time to stop off for lunch somewhere and we decided that some tasty Thai food sounded mighty fine. I'm not terribly familiar with all the dining options west of the border, so I decided to Google that shizz. The first place that came up on Yelp for Thai food was Thai Kitchen on Pines, with a nearly perfect 4 1/2 star user review score overall. Bingo! And off we went.

We were lucky our timing was at least right enough to actually get a table. It was only about 11:20 am but people were already filling up the place like a cat house on free tuna day. Here's the thing we figured out later on: Thai Kitchen has weird, limited lunch hours (11 am - 1 pm, M - F), so what regular patrons do is call ahead earlier in the morning, place their orders ahead of time, and let the staff  know what time they'll be showing up to eat. That way, their meal is brought out pretty much right when they pull off their jackets and sit down. Being a small place with limited hours, Thai Kitchen likes to get 'em in and get 'em out fast.

So we're sitting there seeing all these folks that were sat WAY after we were sat have their food brought out to them right away and where in fresh hell is OUR lunch? A mild agitation set in as the seconds turned into minutes, the minutes turned into about an hour and my roommate was panicking because he had to be to work in about 19 minutes and still no food!

Let me keep you in suspense for a bit while I share a little history, etc. The Thai Kitchen opened (in another Valley location) in 1990. Owners Paul and Benjamas Hall hail directly from Bangkok, Thailand, and came to the USA to share their delicious take on Thai cuisine with us  Inland North-westerners. Paul waits tables solo in a mad kind of rush, greets regulars with his enormous enthusiastic grin and helps new customers decipher the exotic dishes. Wife Benjamas also works solo in the kitchen cooking up her unforgettable dishes all from scratch. That's right, this place is literally run by a husband and wife, two people, with no other staff that I noticed at least.

Thai Kitchen (aka ครัวไทย) is located in (I think) a small converted house about six blocks south of Sprague on Pines. The decor is simple and airy, a bit of modern, a touch of retro. People don't call hours ahead of time and make reservations because of the decor; it's the soul-satisfying, dream-state inducing food! On the menu, curries abound, including the popular Jungle Curry, and a rainbow of Red Curry, Green Curry and Yellow Curry (all $9.95-$12.95 depending on choice of protein).

Of course noodle dishes play a major role as well, and the Pad Thai ($9-95-$12.95) is a staple of any Thai Place - in fact without Pad Thai, would a Thai Place still be a Thai Place? I don't think so. The delicious combo of rice noodles, chicken or pork, and green onions smothered in sweet, hearty peanut sauce and sprinkled with crushed peanuts deservedly put Thailand on the international culinary map way back whenever.

House specials include Prawns or Squid in Chili Oil ($12), Moo Tod (crispy fried pork with garlic, $9.95), Pad Prik Khing (don't even go there with the male anatomy jokes - it's a curry flavored green bean dish with choice of meat, $9.95-$12.95), and Tom Yum Soup (spicy soup with lemongrass, mushrooms, and an assortment of meats, $8.95-$10.95).

So, while we were waiting for our main courses to arrive, before the time panic set in, we did receive our appetizer of Thai spring rolls ($7) in a reasonable amount of time. They were light and crispy, with a delicately flaky outer shell and stuffed with flavorful ground pork, transparent noodles and flecks of carrots.

I will give Paul credit for keeping us updated on the status of our order. "Coming soon, coming soon" he kept saying, pointing his finger in our general direction. Finally, with literally no time left to spare before my roommate had to show his face at work, we caught him and asked if we could get our lunch in to-go containers since we were running suddenly so late.

He leaned over our table. "Yes, yes, No problem, to go. Let me tell you secret. You call plenty ahead of time from now on, you get food right away!" He snapped his fingers and smiled wide as he handed me a business card. A-ha! That's the little trick we missed. Well, now we knew.

He arrived momentarily with our to-go containers and we zoom-zoomed the five minute drive to my roommate's work, getting him there literally in the nick of time, lunch in hand. I drove back to Coeur d'Alene, got home, nuked my food for a minute just to freshen it up and dug in to my container of heavenly fragrant Chicken Mussamun Curry ($9.95)

The chicken morsels were succulent, tender to the teeth, fresh as spring, and so very, very tasty. The red potato action is perhaps why the whole affair took such a long time, since they maybe take a bit to soften and cook to an edible consistency. Yet, oddly, only one small potato emerged from my carton. A minor discretion. The big, tender hunks of white onion and crunchy peanuts in this dish really played a strong supporting role rather than acting as a garnish, and they served to enhance the performance of the main superstar (the chicken).

The curry sauce itself was beyond perfect, blending a deep rich spice with hints of bright coconut milk sweetness lurking underneath. Thai Kitchen uses a spiciness scale of 1-10, and I could have actually stepped up the level from a 7 to an 8 (or even a brave 9). Level 7 was a terrific balance of flavor, but I truly love it when my Thai is so spicy I am literally bawling my eyes out and begging for mercy. Perhaps it was best that it was a little mellow, as I did have a job interview directly afterwards and it's never a good idea to show up to those with red, puffy, cried-out eyes like you've been watching old re-runs of One Life to Live (I may or may not be guilty of this).

I'm not a big fan of CdA's Thai Bamboo, and the new Asian Twist is quite promising with its selection of Thai food, but with such limited options in our city for GOOD Thai cuisine, it's comforting to know that the best in the area is just a quick 25 minute drive away. Forgive me for the all-caps moment I'm about to have, but I must emphasize, CALL AHEAD TO PLACE YOUR ORDER OR YOU WILL HAVE TO WAIT. AND WAIT. AND WAIT. Still, for me the wait was fully worth it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Lowdown: Asian Twist Restaurant

This weekend, I sent my dear friends Jay and Jake up to the new Thai/Fusion eatery Asian Twist, located in the Albertsons complex in Coeur d'Alene (226 W Ironwood Dr.). I wanted to join them, but alas and alack, I was stuck at work pouring boozy drinks for the party kids. I was fortunate enough to sample Asian Twist's Hot and Sour Soup and Yellow Mussamon Curry the day before when my pal Gregory brought in some take-out to eat at the bar where I work, and the few bites I had were awesomely delicious.

Anyway, I told Jay to let me know if the place earned a thumbs up or a thumbs down from him and he went ahead and wrote up a little paragraph describing the experience. He also took some photos that really work the saliva glands of a hungry so-and-so like me.

"We tried a new place called Asian Twist. Jake had the pad drunken keemow and chicken. I had the chicken basil. It is affordable Thai in a casual setting. Five stars does mean hot so consider a four. Very tasty with good portion size for around $10 per person. It was amusing to see Lawrence Welk, golf and a kung fu fighting movie all playing at once in the dining room."

Looks delicious, right? Then there's that totally bizzaro thing about the Lawrence Welk and golf on the TVs. Perhaps they were trying to be post-ironic or something, but it seems odd for a place that's trying to attract a young hip crowd to show old fart stuff like this:

Ah, well. Bubbles and balls never hurt anyone, and it sounds like this place is already causing ripples of delight in the Coeur d'Alene food community. Let's check out a couple of reviews from Asian Twist's page over on Yelp...

I have to admit I had my doubts going in, but food was fresh, authentic, and flavorful. Teriyaki chicken was just so so. Wish it was cut in longer pieces and grilled instead of chopped small and sauce was thin. My wife's Soup had all the usual suspects to see Galangal, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaf, & Thai Bird Chilis. Good stuff. Prices were fair, of course I'm always wanting a bit more for my money, but I understand the costs of the restaurant business. Friendly Service. The decor doesn't really match the name and concept, but as long as the food is good I'm there. I did wish there was a few appetizers. Maybe some gyoza or Thai pnut chicken skewers. I will be back to try the Pad Thai. ~ Joe M., Post Falls

This place is fantastic, the prices are great and the quality of food is superb, fresh and delicious! I highly recommend Asian Twist, you won't be disappointed. ~ Michael F., Mead WA

LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE! Great prices, great food, so many things to try.. and if you like REAL spice or no spice at all they can accommodate all spice needs! One of my new FAV places!!! ~ Linda I., Coeur d'Alene

AND...lastly, here's the Asian Twist menu for you to gander and gawk and drool at...

Monday, September 16, 2013

North Idaho's Most Interesting...Salads

Dockside 18 foot Salad Bar - Picture of The Coeur d'Alene Resort, Coeur d'AleneSo. I haven't really been out to eat much lately, and I don't have an actual review in me at the moment, so I thought I would scour the menus of North Idaho and start a new blog series: "North Idaho's Most Interesting...". You can say the ellipsis out loud if you'd like, "dot dot dot". Let's start with salads. Join me, shall you?

Salad bars have been slowly going the way of the dodo for several decades now, but don't tell that to the kids at Dockside (CdA Resort). $10.99 really isn't a bad tab for 18 feet of pure salad bar excitement. Their website has this teaser of a tidbit: "We use fresh and organic ingredients for our 'From Scratch' salads, a large selection of dressings and 'Follow the Harvest' seasonal ingredients from our local farmers."

It's true, I used to work in the resort garage and random hippies would come through all the time with smelly broke-down Toyota trucks full of fresh-picked fruits and veggies. It's not like me to endorse anything Hagadone related, at least dining-wise, bit as a salad bar fan, I will put it out there that Dockside's salad bar is the only reason to visit the resort. Besides the cool new aquariums.

Cafe Carambola (610 Hubbard St/Harbor Plaza, Coeur d'Alene) is always an unusual and charming (and crowded) place to have lunch. Their take on "Nuevo Latin Fusion" includes primarily tortas and wraps, but they always have gorgeous fresh ensaladas hanging out in their deli case. One notable entry here is their Poblano, Orange, and Black Bean Salad ($5.99 half / $9.49 whole), which is like a hit of sweet sunshine even on a crappy rainy fall day. Carambola tosses together sweet orange with black beans, poblano pepper, spanish onion and tomato and spikes the whole thing with cumin-citrus marinade. Viva el verano!

Also from the Department of Weird But Delicious is Carambola's Incan Quinoa Salad ($5.99 half / $10.49 whole). It has a tangy tomatillo-herb dressing over quinoa and kañiwa, sweet corn, radishes, cucumber, queso fresco. Quinoa and Kañiwa sounds like the headliner performers at a Colombian drag queen show, and I had to use the Google to figure out what kañiwa even was ("a remarkably nutritious grain of the high Andes that has been described as helping to “sustain untold generations of Indians”). Huh. Trippy.

Lake Pend Oreille is gorgeous any time of year, but summertime in Sandpoint is perfect for lounging around on a spacious deck, nibbling on food and drinking a specialty cocktail or two (or nine), and gazing out across the water.  Trinity at City Beach (58 Bridge St., Sandpoint) is a long-time local favorite for this type of activity, and along with many other gastric treats, they offer a fabulous Seared Scallop Salad ($15) Fifteen bucks is a little on the spendy side of a salad, but this ain't your usual plate of lettuce with Hidden Valley Ranch slathered across it. Jumbo scallops are seared to a golden brown and are splayed on a bed of mixed greens, tossed with strawberries and doused in honey-lime vinaigrette. Seafood and strawberries, who'd have thunk it?

Both farm animals and human beings are practically passing out over the fabulous Spinach Salad ($9) at Fainting Goat Wine Bar (516 Bank St.,Wallace). Some folks blanche at the idea of spinach, but this line-up will turn you into a regular Popeye the Sailor Man with fresh spinach leaves, caramelized walnuts, manchego, pear, charred shallot, pancetta vinaigrette.

Yes, I had no idea what manchego was either, but good old Google tells me it's a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed. In other words, don't expect to see it in the deli case at Peterson's Family Foods.

I can't get the new Britney Spears single out of my head this week, so it's natural that the next restaurant would invoke one of the pop queen's masterfully poetic verses: "You wanna live fancy/Live in a big mansion/Party in France/You better work bitch!" Hate to break it to you, Brit Brit, but we can party French style right here in North Idaho at Fleur de Sel (4365 Inverness Dr, Post Falls) and it's not going to take too much work to be able to afford their extra fancy Smoked Trout Salad (only $9)

Get this jazz: this salad is listed as featuring a 61° organic egg. 61°! I was unaware of the idea that a 61° organic egg is the perfect organic egg and a 59°oraganic egg or a 62° organic egg simply will not do, hunty. The rest of the line-up for this salad goes like this: Bob’s smoked Idaho red ruby trout from fisherman market in CdA, Belgian endives, greens, candied walnuts, lemon vinaigrette, Szechuan peppercorn. And then there's this disclaimer: "when available we will substitute the endives and greens by the salad of the moment from Gary’s garden in Sagle". Okay, so we know that this salad involves at least two industrious men (Bob and Gary) and international escapades to Europe and Asia. Amazing. Sounds like it does indeed take a lot of work, bitch.

Goat cheese isn't the thing for everyone, but I love it, I love it, I love it. The wonderful Moontime (1602 E Sherman Ave, Coeur d'Alene) features a delectable Lemon Vinaigrette Salad ($8.50 Half salad $5.50). Goat cheese, red onions, roasted beets, toasted walnuts, spiced pumpkin seeds and spinach tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. I'll have extra got cheese please, and while your at it, I'll have some extra roasted beets and toasted walnuts. And can I get some extra red onions and spiced pumpkin seeds as well. Heck, I guess I'll just order two of these suckers.

When I saw the Blackened Ono Salad  ($15.99) listed on the Crickets (424 E Sherman Ave, Coeur d'Alene) menu, I recoiled with horror: "Oh my god, what have they done to my poor Yoko?!?" But no, Ono is a type of game fish also known as Wahoo (according to Yahoo, naturally). This sort of actually boring salad includes romaine, gorgonzola, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, rasp vinagrette, topped with Yoko Ono and apple slaw. By the way, I want to take a moment to address all the Yoko haters: she DID NOT break up the Beatles (Paul basically did, look it up), and she is a completely valid visual and musical artist with nearly a dozen number one hits on the Billboard dance music charts (I'm not lying, look it up). So there.

Thai Bamboo (2010 N 4th St, Coeur d'Alene) has what they claim is "the most popular salad in Thailand". This is a salad that gets a lot of dates if you know what I mean (wink wink nudge nudge). Her name is Som Tum and she could be all yours (for half an hour at least) for only $9.99. She may be a cheap ho, but she ain't trashy - this salad has green papaya, thai chili, fresh garlic, green beans, fresh garlic, green beans, tomatoes,  and peanuts mixed together in lime juice, served with fresh vegetables. She may be popular, but she's basically a simple girl, raised on a pastoral farm near UdonThani. She was always a little spicy, and certainly very fresh, and her mama tried to tell her not to move to the big city and get involved with the mafia in Phuket, but she was driven to share her special "gifts" with the world and there was nothing her tearful mama could do.

Speaking of Thai-ness, to wrap this whole mess up, here's a salad that I have had several times and really, really dig.  Capone's (various locations) Thai Chicken Salad ($10) is something you wouldn't expect me to order off a menu that is soaked with the grease of delicious pizzas and burgers, but every now and then you gotta take it light and easy. It's mixed greens in garlic ginger dressing, chicken breast tossed in spicy Thai peanut sauce, topped with carrots, sesame seeds, fresh cilantro, chow mein noodles, and peanuts, served with focaccia. Yeah, the focaccia is a bit of a throw off, but Capone's likes to break the rules so why not mix Thai with Italian? Anyway, the bread is dank, and the garlic ginger dressing on the salad is somehow rich and refreshing at the same time. When I am craving a salad (yes, it has been known to happen on occasion, this is my go-to situation).

Happy salad-ing and if you have a favorite local salad you have a fetish for, feel free to leave your story in the comments below.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Top of China Buffet Mini-Mini-Review

A friend visited Top of China Buffet on Appleway in CdA recently and posted this brief-yet-memorable review on his Facebook page. I got him to send me a recording of himself recreating the whistle he mentions. I found the whole thing so amusing I had to share:

Dear Chinese Buffet:

I quite enjoyed the butter laden seafood. The server was attentive. The fortune was a bit materialistic. The other patrons were unobtrusive. 13 angel fish is perhaps an unlucky number for the tank. But what in the heck was the deal with the kitchen worker who loudly whistled the same seven notes over and over. It was obviously some very catchy riff from a song that I will never buy on iTunes. For 45 minutes I listened to this hypnotic and distressing septatonic torture device! I may not be the same ever again.

(Click below to play audio of reviewer recreating the kitchen worker's whistling tune)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday Tidbits 8/5

Canton Vine *** Let's start the week of with a little Vine video, shall we? I have a Seattle friend I meet for lunch at Canton nearly every time he's in town. In fact, we've been meeting at Canton (113 N 4th St, CdA) since before current owner Alex took over the wok aeons ago (at least 7 years, I believe). My friend was in town this last weekend, and with all the Street Fair hullabaloo going on, the place was vacated and we got the place to ourselves. Food was tasty and fresh as per usual, and I decided to take a few minutes to record one of these new-fangled Vines the kids are doing these days on my iPhones. So, if you've never experienced the Glory of Canton first hand, here is a fairly decent simulation:

Ugly Fish to Close? *** We keep hearing rumors that the Ugly Fish Asian Bistro in Riverstone has a serious case of ich and is about to become Dead Fish Asian Bisto. For those paying attention, this might not be a terrible and complete shock, as the restaurant was holding very odd hours over the course of last winter, and at one point was actually closed for a month or so while the owners went to China on vacation. Anonymous sources close to the eatery's inner workings have told us that they will be surprised if it survives until the end of the summer season.

I've dined there twice and both times I left feeling very satisfied with the food, but not exactly thrilled to bits with the level of service - employees always seemed like they had been just hired that day and didn't have the tools they needed to help diners have a fully enjoyable visit. We asked for lemons for our water once and our server told us she would have to ask management if that was acceptable (???). I had a friend who took a waiting job there last year and quit as soon as he found out that he wouldn't get to keep his tips during some kind of "probationary training period". Is that even legal?

Why else could the Ugly Fish be swirling down that great toilet bowl of restaurant doom? In addition to their erratic hours, they had some serious menu troubles. They opened with a menu that weighed more than Saturn and took longer to read through than the Obamacare act, although it did have colorful photos that looked almost vaguely like the food that would actually land in front of you.

Naturally, it was difficult for the customers, staff, and most likely their food cost budget to keep up with so much stuff, and gradually menu items we taped over or marked out, leaving the menu looking like a battered and bandaged transient in Chinatown. Last Spring, Ugly Fish just decided to scrap the whole thing and created a new menu with only a small fraction of their original menu intact. Looking at the restaurant's facebook page, it is quite clear that customers missed their favorite items that had gotten the ax, and probably weren't thrilled to return. Basically, Ugly Fish sabotaged themselves by starting way too huge, and then committing menu-cide, leaving patrons with a very bad taste in their mouths.

How long Ugly Fish will keep swimming remains to be seen.

Elmer's Moving Into Former Perkins *** This item was stolen from Nils Rosdahl's, "Business Bits" column in the CdA Press, but it was reported that Elmer's Family Restaurant is moving into the former Perkins Family Restaurant spot on Appleway next to La Quinta Inn, behind Burger King.

I spent 9,568 hours at Perkins in high school drinking endless pots of coffee and smoking cigs until I wanted to puke (yes, I am that old - smoking was allowed in restaurants back then). I hadn't been in years, and the food was terribly rotten, but part of me felt like I was losing something when Perkins closed three-or-so years ago.

Happy to see that Elmer's is taking over the space. Their food is actually quite decent for a family restaurant and their waiters are *ahem* a little easy on the eyes. A full remodeling job is expected, so that adds to the excitement a bit. Opening day is expected to happen late August.

Long Ear 40th Anniversary Mega-Party *** The Long Ear record shop has existed since before even the Coeur d'Alene Resort existed, so you know they've been around for-ev-ah in this town. In fact the Long Ear has existed since yours truly was burping up formula and getting cranky for a diaper chance (I was 1).

Owners Terry and Deon Borchard weren't always Coeur d'Alene Royalty, in fact they opened the first version of their store in Big Bear, California as part of their Radio Shack franchise. Their move to CdA came at some point in the early 1980's, and they opened shop in a tiny spot in a strip mall on Government Way where they grooved along happily for many years, building up a faithful and massive crowd of customers along the way.

Eventually, the Borchards and crew pinned down a much larger and more visible location at 2405 n 4th, between I90 and Appleway, where they've been selling used and new vinyl Cds, and cassettes, along with hundreds of other fun items (their facebook describes it like this: "Body jewelry, incense & burners, stickers, posters, hookahs, tapestries, fair trade purses & clothing").

Incredibly, this October will mark the 40th anniversary of the Long Ear, and they are having ONE HECKUVA PARTY to celebrate. It's actually a few months early, most likely to take advantage of the summer sunshine, but this year's "Ear Fest" line up is very strong. Five-time Grammy winning blues guitarist and singer Robert Cray will be stopping by to performa, in addition to these fine local acts: Flying Mammals, Ditto, The Colourflies, Bridges Home, Kat & Angela Marie, Adam Android and the Artificial Intelligence, The Static Tones, Goodnight Venus, & Scatterbox.  The event is roundout out with appearances by Snake Pit Derby Dames, Bella Courbe & The Art on the Edge breakdance troop. 

MARK THE DATE. This is an event any music fan would call in sick to work with "explosive diarrhea" for! Here is a link to the full press release:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Art on the Green/Taste of CdA/ Street Fair 2013

Art on the Green
Taste of Coeur d'Alene
Downtown CdA Street Fair

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
Hours: Fri, Sat: 10AM to 8:30PM. Sun: 10AM to 6PM

My mother has been a crafter type since before crafting was even cool. Decoupage, macramé, doll making, stained glass, toll painting, you name it. She has been through every trend, and she has been remarkably good at all of them. One year in the early 80's, I remember my mom excitedly filling out the forms needed to enter her work into the Art on the Green selection committee so that she could have a booth at the festival, which was something she had wanted to do since the beginning days of the event in the late 60s.

The phone rang one day and it was one of the committeemen, a man that she had known from outside of the selection committee situation and who wasn't exactly her bff. "Sorry, dear" he said, "this is Art on the Green, not Crap on the Green." Naturally, she was quite upset and to this day she has never stepped foot on the NIC campus during the first weekend of August. Since then, I've also not been terribly thrilled about Art on the Green. Karma bit that committeeman hard (he ended up in a sex scandal a few years later), but the bad taste lingers in my mouth after all these years.

To sum it up, in my little opinion, Art on the Green is rather pretentious and snotty, with high-priced, useless "crap" that only Richie Rich bitches can afford to put on their husband's American Express Platimum cards and have two-day delivered via FedEx to their homes in Santa Monica. Kudos to the artists, apparently the same people year after year, who sit in their little tents selling their wares (and yes, many of them are quite talented) and have to deal with these snobs and also the HOARDS of other obnoxious people (and their wild-ass kids) who could never afford to buy any of their items even if they saved up their plasma donation money for an entire year.

Update: Don Sausser has pointed out in the comments that I failed to mention the "clothesline" element of Art on the Green. It's an area near the entry where one can actually buy reasonably priced art items from various artists and photographers, and is a fabulous way for the Average Joe or Jane to be able to pick up something to take home with them. Thank you Don for pointing this out and calling me on my snottiness :-)

But then there is the food. And the music. Two solid reasons to actually spend an hour finding a parking spot and fighting the maddening crowds trampling the grass on the historic Fort Grounds area. German sausages with sauerkraut! BUTTERY CORN ON THE COB! Huckleberry ice cream! They make a perfect accompaniment to some live music and entertainment which, as usual, runs between new and familiar acts this year. Here is the official line-up:

North Stage Schedule
Friday - August 2
12:00    Art Shop – Children’s Art in Motion
3:15 San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers – Celtic
4:30 Scott Cossu Ensemble – Contemporary Jazz
6:00 Impossible Bird – Folk Singer/Songwriter
7:30 Tuxedo Junction – Swing Big Band

Saturday – August 3
10:00    La Dolce Musica -- Classical
10:45    Coeur d’Alene Symphony -- Classical
12:00    Inland Northwest Dance Assn.
1:30 The Ensemble of the Northwest Music Chorale
3:00 Paul Peress -- Jazz
4:30 Kris Orlowski -- Folk/Pop
6:00 Camille Bloom Trio – Singer/Songwriter
7:30 Milonga -- Salsa

Sunday – August 4
10:00    Doug Porter -- Guitar
11:30    Scott Kirby -- Piano
1:00 Mary Lou & The Dion Family -- Popular
2:30 Gypsy Soul – Pop/Singer/Songwriter
4:00 Coeurimba -- Marimba|
South Stage Schedule
Friday - August 2
11:00 Kids Poetry Reading
12:00 All That Jazz -- Jazz
1:30 Beth Pederson/Bruce Bishop – Folk/Singer/Songwriter
3:00 Paul Grove – Classical Guitar
4:30 John D. & Margery – Retro/Americana
6:00 FUZE – Four 12 Year old Jugglers
 Saturday - August 3
10:00 Christian Youth Theatre
11:30    Brad Keeler Duo -- Jazz
1:00 Kathy Colton & the Reluctants - Folk/Pop
2:30 Impossible Bird – Folk Singer/Songwriter
4:00 Gypsy Soul – Pop/Singer/Songwriter
5:30 Scott Cossu Ensemble – Contemporary/Jazz
Sunday - August 4
10:30    San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers - Celtic
12:00 Canned Music - Pop/Rock/Oldies
1:30 Nicole Lewis - Jazz/Vocal
3:00 Chutzpah - Klemer/Jazz
The Taste of Coeur d'Alene event (sponsored by Idaho Panhandle Kiwanis ) is the same weekend in city park and is like a poor man's Art on the Green for those of us on an actual budget (aka 98.75% of us). The food selection is much larger and there is also live music to be had, although perhaps not quite on the same scale as what's happening on campus. There are crafters and artisans selling their wares at prices many of us could actually afford.

I wandered the festival triad a few years back with a friend who was looking for a handmade wooden chair for her front porch. Some guy at Art on the Green wanted nearly $500 for his, and we found a guy that was selling pretty much the exact same chair for $125. Apparently, three blocks difference equals ridiculous price markups. Anyway, I'm done ranting, but like Smokey Robinson sang, you'd better shop around before you fork over a half-year's salary to buy a tie-dyed tapestry to hang above your couch.

It's hard to make a decision at the Taste of CdA on what kind of food to eat, so you might just want to keep returning all weekend. There's the Big Yellow Mobile Kitchen, Sidewok Teriyaki, Bruchi's cheesesteaks, and over a dozen others I can't recall at the moment. Bring an extra pair of shorts with you, a few sizes bigger. You'll need them after gorging yourself on all the delish deliciousness.

Finally, there's the Downtown CdA street fair, where they shut off all of Sherman Avenue and eleventy zillion people show up to sell everything under the hot August sun and people show up to shop for everything under the hot August sun. I've even seen a few booths selling pipes, bongs, and other pot smoking related accoutrements, although I have no idea if that's even legal in Idaho. Good for the hippies for not giving a rip either way.

The highlight for me, and I hope she appears again this year, is the woman who I've caught performing a few times during the street fair in front of the Sports Cellar at 4th & Sherman. She must be in her seventies by now and she has a fabulous white cloud of hair, a fringed denim jacket from 1987, a Casio keyboard, and a microphone turned ALL the way up. She hits "go" on her synthesizer and yodels out country and adult contemporary hits of long ago, much to everyone's delight and amazed bemusement. She is the Katy Perry of the senior citizen circuit and she is adorable.

If I have a sighting of this delightful creature this year I will be sure to update you all on Facebook, because she is better than all of Art on the Green and should not be missed.