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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Taste And See

Taste and See on the Northside is now open on Holland Street!

Taste and See is a Tea House on the South Hill in Spokane.
(NOTE: As of January 2011 they have closed this location with plans to reopen on the North-side of the city in the spring.  Check their website for more information.)

)Having never been to such a place before I was delighted when a friend of mine asked me to join her for a Christmas tea.  This is something I would definitely enjoy doing again, and I most certainly recommend it as the kind of thing to do when you want to dine with someone and spend time talking and enjoying one-another's company.  The experience of enjoying tea with a friend was fun, relaxing, elegant, a bit whimsical and most definitely a delightful way to spend an afternoon in anticipation of the Christmas Holiday. Taste and See is the brainchild of Thada Ziegler.

This place is quite elegant and it's run as a "ministry," a not for profit business organized around the intent of helping women who are transitioning from shelters, they say that they "provide a paid internship program for these women, in the venue of the tea room, to help them get ready to transition back into the work place."  It's a cool concept to help others, and the "Taste and See" name comes from the book of Psalms in the Bible, (Psalm 34:8.)

The shelters I saw listed that they are associated with were Anna Ogden Hall and the Union Gospel Mission, Christian ministries, so one might assume it is a Christian oriented ministry organization, but whatever it was specifically, was not particularly obvious to me, except for the reference to the Psalm in the name, and most certainty the kindness and respect they showed all the customers there, including us.  There is definitely a spirit of serving here. As for cost to the customer, each reservation was $20.00, which I thought was reasonable, especially as we were there two hours.  Tips and donation all go directly to the ministry.

Having made prior reservations, our table was ready for us and  we were seated to a beautiful salad and invited to "tea."  Our waitress also graciously explained the process of eating at a tea house to us, telling us what we could expect throughout our visit, as well as about their little gift shop.Our first tea was Cinnamon Stick.  It was sweet and cinnamony, a lot like my favorite Good Earth blend.  Each subsequent tea was brought out in another teapot and all were unique and quite ornate.

We were greeted and made to feel right at home immediately.  There were quite a few other people there, and not just women only, there were men. In our room there was a couple at another small table and a large group of about ten dining in our room while we were there.  On the other side of the house there were people also.  We were told that people there were "walk-ins", people who did not make reservations who had just walked in, like they were going to a restaurant, and ordered a lunch.  Our server told us that they were discontinuing that after January and would only be taking reservations after that.

After our tea and salad, we were brought two more pots of tea that we selected from a tea menu.  Shortly thereafter we were served Lemon Scones, severed with Devon-shire Cream as well as Lemon Curds.  (above)

After these were were offered more tea and  then we were brought fancy little lunch treats.

There were stuffed potatoes, Chicken Salad Croissants, Pesto and Sun Dried Tomato English muffins and Turkey and Cheese wreath-shaped white and wheat  sandwiches.  (pictured to the right)

Next there was more tea and then dessert

The desserts were assorted samplings of several tasty morsels.  I do not remember exactly what all we were served but I do remember that in the center were balls of peppermint ice cream that had been rolled in coconut.  It sounded a little odd to me, not something I would have chosen for myself, but it was delicious.(below)

It was really nice to spend time with my friend, talking laughing, and not having to think about what to order except for tea.  (The meal was preplanned by the kitchen staff.)  We were there for two hours.  They told us to expect that when we made our reservations, and that is exactly what occurred. 

We tried numerous teas, mostly Roobios types.  I think may very favorite was the Cinnamon, although  the others were delightful to experience.  I understand that Roobios (pronounced like "roy-bos") also known as Red Tea is a very healthy drink.  Tea in general is supposed to be good for you, so, drink more tea.  And, if you can, get together with a friend, someone special to you, and make reservation for a tea party of your own at the tea room,; it's fun.

Here is a photo of the house.  Upstairs, I  understand, is a Bed and Breakfast!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Taste of Thai, (another taste)

Rather than try somewhere new to us, tonight we revisited A Taste of Thai, first of all because it was close to where we were, second of all, because we like Thai food and thirdly, because this place is good.

If I need another reason, I can think of more... like I did not have pictures of it before and tonight we took some pictures to add to this blog!  (that's four!) Here is our table...

I took some other photos as well, but they did not come out so great I will not post them. The food looked terrific too.

We ordered Thai Tea, Spring Rolls, Thom Ka Gai, and Red Curry.  The Red Curry dish is in the foreground.  It has chicken, basil, green peppers, bamboo, and red bell peppers.  this is a tasty curry dish!  The Thom Ka Gai was excellent, and I even liked the Thai Tea.

I love the cozy atmosphere here and the fact that this is a small family-owned restaurant.  Tonight ww also saw some people we know eating there at the same time we were, and it was fun to talk to them.  They said that they go there to eat often. it's one of their regular places.  When I asked them what they liked the best, Mike said, "the menu!" He likes it all!  This night he had tried something new that was served with spinach leaves.  He loved it.

This lovely little restaurant is located at 419 West Hastings Road in Spokane.  It is in the same shopping center where Calvary Chapel Church is. 

Another reason to go there to eat is that the food is definitely good.

A Taste of Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

China Dragon

China Dragon is not a new restaurant to us; we have gone there often and for years.  They have great lunch specials and fantastic Chinese food of all kinds.  Geo really likes the Beef Noodles, which is actually more like a soup in my opinion, but they call it noodles and it is listed under "Noodles" on the menu and our waitress tonight told us that even in China, they just call it "Noodles."  This is a spicy dish.  Geo ordered it again tonight and it was fantastic as usual.  Spicy, and Mmmm- Mmm good!

I am so sorry I did not take pictures tonight.  I kinda forgot, until we were halfway through our meal.  A picture of this would have been terrific, for it was a sight to see.   The bowl of soup was enormous... and my plate was very appetizing.

Having never ordered a combination plate for dinner, just for lunch, I was surprised that the item selections were different.  I chose to have the combination dinner #2,  consisting of Chow Mein, Barbecue Pork, Fried Rice and Spicy Crispy Chicken.  I have to say though that I didn't particularly want to have things offered in this combination, but I liked it once I had it before me on the plate.  Everything was very good.  It was just not all my favorite things in the group, or any of the groupings for that matter and I had to compromise.

My favorite things on my plate were the Chow Mein and the Spicy Chicken.  I love the Chow Mein here.  It is filled with celery and cabbage and onions.  I have tried ordering Chow Mein other places... but it is not the same as here.  I think I am finally getting the idea between the difference between Chow Mein and Special Chow Mein though.  Special Chow Mein is soft noodles.  I like the crunchy... most of the time.  I am still working on differenciating between items like Lo Mein, Chow Fun and Chop Suey.

In the olden days, they used to have a piano player on Sunday afternoons.   I loved that.  It was kinda different, eating Chinese food while a piano master played requests from the audience and serenaded the after church Sunday dinner crowd, and quite fun.  They do not do that anymore.  It's Chinese music.

The decor inside this place is really interesting too.  There is a lot of Chinese art, mostly reliefs, and etched glass throughout and since Christmas is this month the place is done up for the holiday.

I like seeing the cooka cooking in the kitchen through the window and I also like checking out the fish in the fish tank as you come in.  It was a Silver Arowana.  He has been there a long time.

The workers at this restaurant are always really nice and tonight was no exception.   Eating here is always an enjoyable experience.

And then of course, there is the cookie of wisdom that you get after the meal:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mama Mia's Ristorante and Pizzeria

I am blessed that I have friends who like to eat, moreso friends who like to take m out to lunch.  Today a friend of mine took me for lunch at Mama Mia's.  I had never been here before and was pleasantly surprised to find out that this place makes most of their ingredients from scratch, even gnocchi! 

When I entered the restaurant the first thing to catch my attention was some super sized photos on the wall.  We soon learned these were not photos but paintings.  They are rather ominous.  One painting was of the artist of the paintings,and the other was the owner of this little Italian restaurant in North Spokane.

It was really hard for me to decide what to order as the menu had a lot of things I like.  My friend deliberated a bit as well.

So, after long deliberation and ordering a latte and an Italian soda, I ordered the Sicilian Style Lasagna and my friend ordered the Pesto Pasta.  Our meals came with salad (or soup) and bread which felt warm and fresh out of the oven.

In addition, we ordered a pizza to-go.


Sicilian Style Lasagna has spinach and sausage and olives in the sauce, and it was really delicious. The regular lasagna, if it came without the extra ingredients must have been rather plain.  

I really liked the atmosphere of this little tucked away place.   There seemed to be a lot of people there for lunch, although we went late so we probably missed the rush.   I guess I just like to see people relaxing and enjoying themselves over a meal.  That is what we were doing too.

I hope to come back some other day an try the gnocchi, as I am rather impressed that they make it there.  I probably should have tried it today, but I was not really in the mood for gnocchi.  The way I see it, I have a reason to visit this place again.  How many places are there that make their own gnocchi besides your Nonnie?  Not many, that's for sure.

Mamma Mia's is located at 420 W Francis Ave.  In addition to catering and hosting parties they also have a lunch buffet 11:00-2:00 Monday thru Friday.  I was so busy visiting with my friend that the buffet eluded me, but that sounds interesting too.  Well, maybe next time.....



Pho Vino

The good restaurants in Spokane may never run out.  Tonight we found another one, Pho Vina, located at 2303 N. Ash Street, in Spokane.

Pho Vina is both take out or dine in and they had all our favorite.  We spent a long time looking at the menu and deciding what to order.  We had Spring Rolls for appetizers, which were different that most Spring Rolls, (Vietnamese style) that we has had before.  We really like the variety in this.  The ones we have had elsewhere have had mostly lettuce and some shrimp.  These had little lettuce and not only shrimp but other meat as well and two different kind of noodles. They were very good.

We ordered Pho (pronouced like "fa") and clarified that we were saying this Vietnamese word right. Geo selected Hot and Sour.  With this we had Garlic Chicken dish and this was served with rice. I like both dishes well, but they didn't seem like very complimentary flavors to have together.  So I ate one and then the other.

The food here was very good and they had all the Asian favorites, including many squid dishes and things made with duck.  While I did not personally opt for squid or duck, this is one place we would definitely love to go to again.  The highlight of our evening however was something they called Bubble Tea.  You can see this pictured in the middle of our table in the cup with the red straw.

When you order Bubble Tea, you can order it with "Jelly" or "Tapioca."  We ordered ours with tapioca, which is the the round things you can see in the bottom of the cup.  This drink is pretty WILD.

What is Bubble Tea?

When I first say it on the menu, I imagined it to be something like an Italian soda,, you know, ice, carbonated water and some fruit flavored syrup or something like that, but it was nothing of the sort.  I probably lead a beveragely sheltered life, but next to a carbonated soft drink sold a few years back here in Spokane called Orbitz, this is the most unusual beverage I have ever had.

It is like a 7-11 "Slurpee" in it's consistency, icy like a smoothie and it comes in lots of  fruity flavors like banana, strawberry, coconut, honeydew and peach.  Some kinda wild flavors too, like green bean, red bean, chocolate and taro. Ours was peach flavored and being it was like an Icee or a Slurpee drink, I think it would be considered :"snow bubble" style bubble tea.

As mentioned, you can order your Bubble tea with jelly or tapioca, and the tapioca "bubbles" I think, are what give this name to this crazy wild drink.  It is nothing like I have ever had before.
First of all you get this crazy over sized straw, that makes you feel like you are in Texas.  Then you use this unusually large straw to slurp up up your tea, and when you do, these round gummy, bubble-like tapioca pearls, one after another... like bubbles, come up your straw and pop into your mouth.  It's rather addictive and kinda fun.  It even makes you laugh.  Bubble tea is a drink that makes you happy, if you like gummy bears and things like that...

I asked our server about jelly in the drink verses the tapioca.  She told me they are square pieces of jelly instead of round tapioca    As I drank the stuff I couldn't help wonder, "What is tapioca anyhow?" And having seen only the small ones used in tapioca pudding I cannot help but wonder how these tapioca got so big.

I think that the new fun crazy wild thing to do in Spokane could very well be to go out with a friend and drink some Bubble Tea.  It really is not a drink, so much as it is an experience. 

 For directions, and to see what others have to say about this restaurant,  check out Urbanspoon by clicking on the link below.
Pho Vina on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 7, 2009

Phonthip Style Thai Restaurant

This little Thai place is located @ 1006 E, Francis Ave.  One time, when Geo was out of town and I was driving past and just happened to see it, I stopped here for take out.  Ordering Spring Rolls, I was pleased.  It was gr4eat.  However, I was expecting the Vietnamese kind with lettuce, and what I got was more like mini egg rolls.  I then remembered that these were THAI spring rolls.  I thought it funny that it did not register right away with me that this would be Thia, not Vietnamese.  I decided to try this restaurant for dinner sometime with Geo and tonight was the night!  However, to my surprise it became dinner for four, not two.

They offer some very lovely dishes.  It was hard to choose!

We have some long time friends who were able to join us for diner, making it really fun.  This became a sort of "anniversary" dinner-out evening" for the four of us, something that  we had been talking about for a long time, and this was the place.  Because there were four of us, we were able to try a variety of foods.

On the menu tonight for us was Chicken Satay for appetizers,

                                                                                Thom Kha (soup),

Sweet and Sour (Chicken)

Param Longsong (a beef and spinach dish)

Phad Thai
                            and Red Curry.

as well as ice cream desserts.

The price was reasonable and the service very friendly and helpful.  It was a great meal, and being with our friends was a blast!  The best part is that they liked the food as much as we did!

Now, let's talk about the ice cream. The menu had two options:

 This one is ice cream with red beans and lotus seeds.

 This one is ice cream served with the Hot Sticky Rice.

The lotus seeds sounded interesting so we tried that first... but to my surprise the lotus seeds and red beans were simply served on top of the scoop.  These red beans were actually just red beans, kind of like kidney beans from a can, served on top of the ice cream.  The Lotus seeds looked like ... Mexican jumping beans and tasted like... well, bland... nothing in particular, really.  I did think that they had the texture of walnuts. The vanilla ice cream was the best ever.  Ice cream with red beans and lotus seeds was quite unique, I mean, it's something I would have never thought up for myself.

Next we went for the hot sticky rice and ice cream...which sounded to me like a most unusual combination of ingredients.  Good thing we had the other first.  After eating this one, the red beans and lotus seeds definitely takes second place in my book, well-maybe third.  I think plain ice cream takes second and red beans and lotus seeds, third of three.   

I had to ask the waitress what Phonthip Style really was... as I was thinking that maybe it was a place or providence of Thailand, or maybe a particular kind of spice.  That is not the case though.  Phonthip is the cooks name and the Thai food is cooked with her special style... the way she likes it best.

All of the dishes were delicious.  The Satay appetizer was so pretty on the plate and it whet our appetite for all that lay ahead.  Everything was served looking quite colorful and attractive.  We took turns trying each others food.

There was nothing we did not like.  'The sweet and sour dish with it's cooked cucumbers was a little different than I had ever seen before, but I liked it.  The curry was very tasty not too spicy, just enough.  The Thom Ka was a little unique in flavor from other restaurants I have tried, but this too was delicious, kinda sweet.  My friend, who I was worried would think Thia food too-spicy really, really liked it.

The restaurant itself is not very big and it has only been open since October of this year doing much of their business during the lunch hours, but they are open until eight for dinner too. Delicious!  

Phonthip Style Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gordy's Sichuan Cafe... a second visit...

On our latest dining excursion in Spokane, Geo and I went wondering the South Hill area. We drove around some of the familiar streets looking around to see what might catch our eye as a place to dine, not knowing exactly what we were looking for. After driving around for a while and considering a few possibilities, we thought about revisiting and old favorite, (Kim's Korean Restaurant) but instead we ultimately decided to venture into completely new and unchartered territory and kept looking around. The whole South Hill Experience is a little foriegn to us and there was a lot to see and explore..

IT wasn't long until our attention was on a little restaurant we saw on the side of the main road, however, as we were looking for parking, another little restaurant caught our eye. I think it must have actually caught our nose, for the smell in the air was what really got out attention as did the name of the type of food, Sichuan. It was a new word to us, but it seemed oriental and since oriental food is something we enjoy, we decided to investigate the dining experience by inquiring of some passerbys who were just coming out from the restaurant.

They were smiling and happy and delighted in the food experience, at least those who were the guests of the one man who happened to be one of the cooks. With their hearty recommendation and their explanation that Sichuan is a type of Chinese food, we parked the car and entered the door of Gordy's Sichuan Cafe.

Gordy's is a small and very busy dining establishment. We did not have to wait very long and we looked at the menu while we waited. One group was waiting for seating and one person was waiting for take out when we arrived. People were definitely enjoying their food and when we took out seats, so did we. Mapo Tofu, Hot and Sour Soup and a Spicy Tangy Chicken was on our table in no time, as well as rice, lemon flavored water and hot tea.

The food and service was speedy and friendly and tasted delicious, though there were some unique flavors, even in some of our more familiar oriental dishes like Hot and Sour Soup.
I inquired about the special ingredient and the waitress told me that these were "wood ears" in my hot and sour soup. Wood ears, I thought, were a mushroom, but the item did not taste like a mushroom, nor was it shaped like one. More research makes me think that the item in my soup was a tiger lily bud, which I understand is one of the more traditional ingredients used in making this particular soup.  Gordy's. though not run by Chinese people, is both delicious and authentic.

Gordy's is located at 501 E 30th Ave, in what seems to be an old shopping center, but it has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant, or cafe. I thought that part was great.
There is something special about small business owners serving others in the community and making a living that is just cool, and while people make a living in large restaurant chains, often these chains are not so much to serve the community as they are to make a profit. The waitress informed us that this restaurant had been there 12 years and they did no advertising. She said that most people hear about the place via word of mouth. Of course, maybe she didn't know that some people, like us, simply just follow their nose.

Visit #2
We actually went to the South Hill to try another restaurant but when we got there they were closed, so taking a detour we found ourselves near Gordy's.  As we were anticipating some kind of Asian food, it seemed appropriate to try this place again.  We did.

I love the atmosphere at Gordy's.  It's just a little neighborhood place, friendly and clean, busy too, and this all makes it rather fun.  Not only that, it's Chinese foods, prepared nicely, even "China" style, (albeit by Americans who do not look the least bit Chinese!) It's kinda like having he best of both worlds, which is a very American thing... you know, the blending of cultures.  You cannot go wrong with good food and happy people.  We loved having chopsticks greet us on the table and not having to ASK for them.

As we looked over the menu, Geo was tempted with Ma Po Tofu... but we also wanted to try something new to us here, especially since we had been here before,, so we did.  He ordered Ants Climbing the Trees and I ordered the Basil Chicken.  We began with an appetizer- the soup of the day, Hot and Sour Soup.

The soup was tasty.  Soup as an appetizer is actually quite nice.  Hot and Sour soup is tangy and spicy.  Sometimes it is kinda vinegary which is not too desirable... however if the flavor is just right.. it's unusually good.  Gordy's put cilantro on top of our soup which made it quite unique to us and we liked it.  It seemed like when the got to the bottom of the bowl it was loaded with flavor too.  Typically, Hot and Sour Soup kinda grows on you, so to speak, as you eat it.  The flavors of this soup was only the beginning though because tonight would be a night of flavors!

Let's talk about this Ants Climbing the Trees thing...

As you read the menu and it tells you what the dish is made of.  Amidst the many ingredients listed, you see it has sichuan peppercorns listed and you think nothing of it... you may even think "Peppercorns?"  or (knowing it is intended to be a spicy dish, you skip right over that to see if it has ell peppers or something you do not like.  You may even think, "So what?"  If you are like me, you think it is just one of many other ingredients like tasty bits of pork or onions or garlicBe aware, the sichuan peppercorns are the secret ingredient of this dish!

To be sure, "Ant's Climbing a Trees," sounded more like haiku or art to me than food, and  it definitely sounded say the least,  if not downright poetic.  We pressed for more information about the vision that  this title of a dish evoked in our minds with our waitress who tried to give us further information by telling us that this dish is so called because the bits of ground meat clinging to the noodles are intended to evoke an image of ants walking on twigs.  She also told us that all the foods here are quite authentic to what is served in China, especially this one and that she knew this personally having been over in China herself.  She said she loved China and over there this dish is very popular... and she told us it was "spicy."


Now, let's examine this sichuan peppercorn thing...
I can only tell you that it is not like anything I have ever even had before.... and that the peppercorns do something besides simply make this dish "hot."

At first we thought perhaps it was nutmeg on top of the dish and scattered around the edges.  Geo had accidentally inhaled some of it when he took the first bite and commented that it was unlike anything he had ever tasted.  We asked the server what it was.

She said she thought it was the ground pepper, but instead of guessing, she got it straight from the chef... THIS was the Sichuan Peppercorns we were tasting.


It was, as Geo describes, "Wild."  In fact it is so wild I had to investigate further into what EXACTLY this ingredient, "sichaun peppercorns" was.

I began by looking up more information about it on the internet when I came home where I discovered that these peppercorns are also called "flower peppers." I also learned that it is used in making what is called the traditional Chinese "Five Spice Powder."  Another webpage with an article by food critic Rhonda Parkinson,  describes the peppercorns saying that they are not peppers at all,  rather they are berries of the prickly ash tree.

(Who would have thunk?)

What are they like?  Well, they do something to your taste buds, that is for sure.  Big describes them this way..."their smell is something like lavender but are sharp and slightly numbing to the tongue, with a clean lemony wood-like fragrance."  Let me just simply suggest to you that the flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns are unique and bizarre!

Another page said they are related to the citrus family, were even banned from US entry for a while because of a plant disease where they are grown.  The citrus grower here didn't want it spreading to our citrus on American soil, so it could not be imported, but that lasted only for a couple of years and that they are now back on the market. 

 The dish itself was something I was glad I did not order.  I do not think I could have eaten it.  The only part I even  liked was the intriguing spice itself.  Geo spent the whole meal commenting that it was an "Interesting" dish, (never really saying it was "great" or even "good."  He did give other opinions as well, other descriptions; he said things like, "crazy," "wild", "unusual", "unlike anything I have ever had before." )  I didn't like it; but I kept tasting his peppercorn.

Visually, I didn't really think it looked much like ants climbing trees, and I have a pretty good imagination.  I did think of other things, Some quite descriptive possible titles for it, did come to mind, but certainly not "ant's climbing in the trees."  Maybe, (as I am looking at pictures of this dish on the internet,)  maybe it's simply a "red ant" versus "black ant" things.  I mean, we tend to have black ants where I live, though I have seen red ones too.  I also do not like the glass noodles they are just too weird to me in any dish.

Did Geo "like"it?  I asked him, and he said
that he "sort of liked" it.  He ate it all.

NOw for the BIG question:  "Would he order it again?"

"No, probably not."

It was a notably experience though.  We can now say we have eaten (or in  my case tried) "ants climbing trees,"---and these were not even real ones, (although we have tasted real ants before.. and come to think of it, maybe that is where this dish gets it name!) In the course of human existence, tasting the "Sichuan peppercorn" was definitely worth trying.  The experience of it can only be described as simply, "wild."

As for the Basil Chicken, it was good, mild and somewhat sweet, definitely "basil-y" in flavor.  It was quite a contrast from the other dish I might add.  It was good, but not one of my personal favorites in the long run.  Next time I come to Gordy's I will have to try a new dish, that's for sure and there are a few interesting things on the menu as well as a lot of old favorites like Ma Po Tofu and Kung Pao Chicken. 

Apparently a lot of people like this little tucked away Chinese Cafe.  I see by reading about it on the internet that I am not the only one.  The meals here are not what I would call  "inexpensive"  They range in price from $10.00-$30.00. If you are on the South Hill near 20th and Grand you are in the neighborhood but your gonna have to hunt for Gordy's.  The actual address is 501 E 30th Ave and it's   just a little tucked away neighborhood cafe, right there next to the shoe repair place and the take-out pizza parlor.


Gordy's Sichuan Cafe on Urbanspoon