1650 W Appleway, Coeur d'Alene
It's perhaps a smidge on the perplexing side that an eatery advertising itself under the moniker Red Bowl serves all their items in plastic black bowls. The situation conjures up several ponderous questions. Does the plastic bowl wholesaler charge an extra .02 per for the red ones? Was the name "Black Bowl" somehow too morbid and un-cheery or was it already trademarked by a bowling alley with a African-American History theme? Did they at one point consider the name "Green Bowl" but thought better after realizing they might be mistaken for a medical marijuana dispensary?
We may never know the reason, but after a couple of trips to Coeur d'Alene's Red Bowl Fresh Grilled, located deep inside Goodie's Conoco gas station/c-store, I've concluded that it wouldn't really matter if their food was served in Pistachio Puke or Burnt Hair Ochre colored bowls, it would still be pretty darn okay.
Speaking of ungodly color happenings, Red Bowl lives in the former shell of a Taco Time outlet, and while they've applied some red linoleum atop the main counter, and splashed some red paint on the walls surrounding the order area, the cupboards in the kitchen are still neon Taco Time lime green. This vibratingly optical color combo was giving me a mild case of vertigo as I stood at the order counter the first time trying to decide what was what for lunch. Another noted decor tragedy is the appropriate-of-nothing rack of small silk flowerpots for sale near the soda machines. No thanks, I'll buy grandma's birthday present down the street at Tuesday Morning instead.
Yakisoba, rice bowls, and stir-fry combo plates make up the bulk of the Red Bowl menu board. I've described it to friends as sort of a poor man's Noodle Express, but in actuality that makes the place sound significantly more ghetto than it really is, at least food wise. All the staples of this sort of fast-Asian grill are here, a few dozen options overall with no major surprises, none at all, really.
I do appreciate that they cater to people who don't make up their minds so easily (pointing to myself) by offering three combo plates that include a couple of different entrees - Chicken & Short Ribs, Chicken & Spicy Pork, Short Ribs & Spicy Pork ($7.99 per plate). Okay, not an amazing variety of options there, but as an entry point into the world of Red Bowl, it seemed like the right thing to do, so I ordered a #6 (Chicken & Spicy Pork) to go.
When the counter girl disappeared into the the back somewhere and I heard some sizzling and clacking spatula action, I realized that everything was being whipped up from scratch, rather than served out of a metal heat-lamp-fueled bin of some kind. In fact, all the old Taco Time gear in the front part of the kitchen is just sitting there totally out of commission. Everything goes on behind the scenes now, so I suppose all the cooking cacophony could be just an elaborate fake-out and in reality, everything they serve up comes from the frozen foods section of Grocery Outlet. You know, those little microwaveable black plastic bowls.
I think not. My maiden meal from Red Bowl was pretty darn good - both the chicken and and pork were fresh and tender, served Teriyaki-style with a nice, tight ball of white rice and a pile of salad-y veggies. It was good enough to warrant a return visit, this time with Jesi B., and with the intention of actually sitting down at a table to dine and bathe in the luminescent ambiance of a busy quickie mart at noontime. Red Bowl is certainly not the kind of place you'd want to suggest for a meeting with your high society friends, but we were quite entertained by the crowd nonetheless - a dozen-or-so buff and burly Avista utility men who had arrived for lunch at the same time as us. Bonus!
Last week, I returned for another dose of Red Bowl - I needed to give it another whirl before I could form a final opinion, desperately (okay, maybe I'm a little hooked). The Crispy Chicken Plate ($6.99) and a perfectly adequate egg roll ($2.99) tilted the decision all the way over into yes! territory. They could and should refer to it as Chicken Katsu on the menu, because that's really what it is, and Chicken Katsu is one of my most beloved Hawaiian plate lunch items. I love the pounded-down thinness of the chicken meat, coated in that crunchy deep-fried coating and served with that tangy, ketchup-and-Worcestershire based sauce that's so yummy when it gets all mixed into the white rice. Heaven!
On the whole, Red Bowl won't win any Idaho Cuisine magazine Fork-in-Cork awards for its posh atmosphere, but it is a great place to pop in and grab a convenient, appetizing and very filling meal. And where else in town can one pick up a case of Natural Ice beer, a copy of the National Enquirer, and a jumbo-size box of Junior Mints on the way out the door after chowing down on a black plastic bowl full of Tofu Yakisoba?