Friday, November 14, 2008 at 02:23AM
Mizuna Continues To Steal Hearts After Twelve Years
Reviewed September 2008 - Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living
Cuisine: Upscale Bistro / Vegetarian
My infatuation with Mizuna spans almost a decade now. Your acquaintance may be even longer. Or if you have yet to be introduced, allow me.
Mizuna opened in 1996 as the somewhat impulsive initiative of Sylvia Wilson and Tonia Buckmiller. The two had met in California in a boarding school that served only sketchy vegetarian fare. Wilson and Buckmiller decided they could do better and did, running a small catering business together for a while in California. Mizuna was born when they reconnected years later up here.
I fell in love three years later: on one of my first meals in town. Even as a committed carnivore I was immediately captivated. Here was vegetarian food served with such flair that the absence of meat was utterly inconsequential. Great food is great food, period.
Over the years much has changed at 214 North Howard. Now there is sustainably-raised meat on the menu, sharing space with the organic vegetarian and vegan options. Several different chefs have taken a spin in the kitchen. And now neither Wilson or Buckmiller will greet you when you walk in the door. Buckmiller sold her share of the business in 2003. Three years later Wilson in turn passed along the keys to a long-time employee, Michael Jones.
Yet what has remained constant is the truly creative food served in one of the best restaurant spaces in the whole city. Personally I'm a sucker for exposed brick, stained glass, and scuffed wooden floors; and Mizuna pulls these all together in a way that feels warm as well as sophisticated. Think Seattle on the Palouse.
This goes for the service as well. I appreciate its consistent, relaxed, but still attentive feel. This may be due in part to Jones' own experience not as owner but as a waiter himself. His first job at Mizuna in 1996 was out front waiting tables.
Over time the menu has evolved: gathering inspiration as different talents have spent time in the kitchen. But the current incarnation under Michael Jones and his chef Tom Paul Nichols manages to be a brilliant blend of both Mizuna classics and their own dishes.
The salad on the menu in 1999 that played a part in me accepting a job in town (the white cheddar and apple salad) can still be ordered both at lunch and dinner. I would order it without fail except for the disturbing fact that the roasted beet and lentil salad is equally brilliant with its chevre, candied walnuts, and red wine-maple vinaigrette. A well-traveled friend agrees completely, pronouncing the beet salad ‘life changing.'
Yet if you stop by for dinner tonight, you'll be as tempted by recent additions as classic dishes. At the top of the list of the newcomers is easily the smoked jalapeño and honey glazed Berkshire pork chops ($28) served with a sweet potato tamale, grilled zucchini and a sweet corn salsa. Only a whisper behind would be the tender potato gnocchi served either with a roasted organic free-range chicken breast ($22) or more simply set on a vegetarian plate ($18). Go either way since the star of the dish really is the gnocchi.
Jones changes the dinner menu significantly with each season, but has found that the lunch crowd appreciates more consistency. You won't hear any complaints from me with the likes of a sesame crusted seared ahi sandwich on the lunch menu ($11) along with the Thai coconut and kaffir lime stew with scallops and shrimp (also $11). The ahi sandwich in particular offers a bright blend of flavors and textures on chewy La Brea ciabatta.
Not surprisingly, given the attention paid to the other details, dessert is worth careful consideration. The celebrated vegan carrot cake is back on the dessert menu ($7.5) along with a flourless dark chocolate hazelnut pave ($6) and a cashew crusted key lime tart ($6), but for my money the sun-dried cherry, amaretto and pistachio bread pudding ($6) is the way to go.
Start to finish I see no sign that my delight in dining at Mizuna will end anytime soon. I'm hooked on the food, the mood of the place, and the gracious service. And I suspect I'm not alone.
Mizuna Restaurant and Wine Bar
214 North Howard Street
Spokane, WA 99201
tagged Berkshire pork chop, Michael Jones, Mizuna, Spokane restaurants, Sylvia Wilson, Tom Paul Nichols, Tonia Buckmiller, bread pudding, catering, cuisine, kaffir lime stew, potato gnocchi, roasted beet salad, seasonal menu, vegan carrot cake, vegetarian, white cheddar and apple salad in Restaurant Reviews, Spokane