Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Finally, Something to Write Home About

As a sometimes visitor to Vancouver (WA), I am surprised at the scarcity of quality eateries here. With Portland so close, I suppose no one thought it was worth it to have a restaurant on this side of the river. During one of my walks, I came across a diner that looked interesting. It had black and white checkered floors, red stools affixed on one side of a counter, the other side promising home made malted shakes and a "Grandma's Lasagna." Even though it was closed, it oozed nostalgia and I wanted to give it a try.

I asked a local shopkeeper if the food was any good and she said it was okay but nothing to write home about. Piqued, I asked her where I would go if I did want to write home about it and she replied Azteca Mexican Restaurant. I concluded, we have different mothers. Also, there are no foodies in Vancouver.

During one very special night out, at Red Lobster which is as good as it gets here, or so I thought, I asked the waitress what I ask almost everyone I meet here: Where are the good restaurants in Vancouver? (No offense intended to Red Lobster, or Azteca, but I'm looking for a restaurant where the best wine offered is not a Chablis, pronounced ShaBLISS.) I had just about given up hope when our server suggested three restaurants: 360 Pizzeria, Lapellah, and Roots Restaurant and Bar. Turns out all three are related to one another, each featuring a farm-to-table, local, sustainable, food philosophy that is not only trendy but tastes good - although I didn't know all that at the time.

Last night , we tried Lapellah which turned out to be a delicious oasis in a Fred Meyer parking lot. It's a stone's throw from the Columbia River, although you can't see it because Highway 14 passes between the restaurant and the view. Portland's airport is just across the river so the view also includes low flying jumbo jets. There's a popular restaurant just on the other side of the highway that has a much more spectacular view, if that's what you're into. But the food isn't nearly as good. Not even close.

Lapellah was worth taking a couple spins around the parking lot to find a place to park. I knew it as soon as I took in the smells from the kitchen just inside the door. The interior has been made to look like salvaged warehouse space with distressed wood floors that appear to have earned the description through actual wear and tear. Chandeliers hang in a room featuring exposed red brick walls and clean, silver, ducting twisting overhead, a glass divider wall made with embedded glass plates of assorted hues and textures, and as soon as I saw the wine rack and the specials written on the mandatory chalkboard (one of which we ordered), I knew I was in for a treat.

We ordered a ridiculous amount of food (for two) although it was difficult to choose because each item on the menu tempted us. We took turns reading the descriptions aloud, our mouths watering. (Kudos to the menu writer.) We had the Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Calamari (lightly fried and plated with marinara sauce, black and green olives, and sprinkled with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese), the aforementioned chalkboard promoted appetizer special of the day (roasted asparagus, crispy ham hock, two slices of a baguette, and a poached egg), the Lapellah hamburger, and a piece of banana cream pie that wasn't really a pie. (I can't describe it adequately but it was more like the cream filling served on a sugar cookie but much better than that. I highly recommend it.)

To me, the standout was the burger. I ordered it with cheddar cheese, bacon, and a fried egg. It was stacked as tall as my water glass and I wondered why fresh Bibb lettuce was among the toppings. Was it a nod to (or a spit in the eye of) nutrition? A joke? The answer didn't matter because I ate the whole thing, the flavors blending into a perfect recipe for yum. Absolutely, the best burger I've ever eaten, bar none. And still, right now, I want more.

It was a Monday night and the tables were filled. The aromas were alluring, the food was a combination for the senses, the service was friendly and professional, the interior was interesting and private, and - bottom line - the food was good. Very good.

Definitely worth writing about.

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