Culinary passion and diverse ingredients direct Dennis Hanson's craft as chef at River's Edge Restaurant in Grants Pass. Hanson has been cooking professionally for 22 years, in everything from scratch bakeries to large-scale chain restaurants to Verdant at Ashland's Lithia Springs Inn. When the opportunity came to move to River's Edge, he jumped at it.

"I was excited about the diversity of the cuisine, the menu, the location and the fact that I wouldn't have to make the commute from Grants Pass to Ashland anymore," says Hanson, who is currently specializing in the restaurant's theme of Pacific cuisine.

This theme inspired one of River's Edge's signature appetizers: Monterey Bay Calamari. Here, Hawaiian and Asian elements come together as strips of tender coconut-breaded and fried calamari are served with Asian sweet chili sauce and tropical honey lime sauce.

"It is our number one selling appetizer for a year and a half running," Hanson says. "It is a dish that people who normally wouldn't care for calamari find themselves ordering time and time again."

The home cook will want to use bottled dipping sauces and be careful not to overcook the calamari, as it can easily become tough and chewy, advises Hanson.

(serves four as an appetizer)

4 calamari steaks, 5 - 6 ounces each
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons baking soda
10 ounces coconut milk, unsweetened
2 eggs

2 cups shredded coconut
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Rinse calamari steaks and dry with paper toweling. Place flour in a shallow pan. Mix all batter ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl with a wire whisk. In another shallow pan, mix coconut and breadcrumbs. Dip steak in flour and shake off excess. Dip steak in batter and allow excess to drip off. Place steak in coconut-crumb mixture and coat well, patting to adhere breading. Calamari can be prepared in advance to this point, placing breaded steaks with wax paper in between in a storage container; refrigerate until needed. Preheat a deep-fryer to 350 degrees. Carefully lower a breaded calamari steak into oil and fry until outside just becomes golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Slice into strips; serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauces.