Dining Out: Inviting experience awaits at Hearth

Relaxing Washougal restaurant brings array of fine flavors

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Why: It’s been almost three years since owner David Garcia opened Hearth in Washougal. The restaurant is a dinner house where most of the menu items are prepared in a wood-fired oven, which also serves as the foundation for the dining environment. The menu changes periodically to make use of local, fresh ingredients.

Though Hearth is a bit off the beaten path for many Clark County residents, it offers an unusual dining experience where the pace is restful and the food is satisfying.

Atmosphere: The restaurant imparts the inviting warmth of a home hearth. The décor brings elements of art, design, and balance together for a modern, Southwest character. Pottery is widely displayed, tapestries adorn some walls, and a few curtains are strategically placed to soften the impression.

Seating consists of basic tables and chairs that are slightly understated but serve their function. These are arranged along the perimeter of the main dining space for an intimate experience, and — side by side for a more communal vibe in the bar. A handful of counter seats are available opposite the wood-fired oven, just beyond the open kitchen.

What I tried: My dining companions and I chose a variety of items that included the French onion soup; fennel beet salad; bacon-wrapped dates; tournedos, a filet mignon special of the evening; the crispy Thai chicken; and baby back pork ribs with Hearth’s ginger-blackberry glaze, a staple on the menu since Hearth’s opening. We had coffee with our dessert choices, which included the lemon crème brulée, fruit crisp, and chocolate orange lava cake.

The bacon-wrapped dates were an appetizing start to our meal. The combined distinct flavors reminded me of how bacon tastes when syrup floods into its space on the breakfast plate.

The French onion soup was a traditional experience; the fennel beet salad was inventive. The salad combined roasted red beets, thinly sliced fennel, and mint leaves. The amount of beets used was representative of greens in a salad; the fennel and mint were included in quantities closer to garnish. I found the beets dominated the salad and I tired of it quickly. I would rework the salad by adding a bit of spinach, cutting back on the beets and incorporating some yellow ones as well. I would also put in something sweet, such as mandarins, and top it with some goat cheese.

Our entrées were impressive. The filet mignon was wrapped in bacon and topped with a green sauce that tasted of cumin and paired nicely with the meat. Two sides accompanied the filets — whole red potatoes, cooked soft and somewhat flattened and basted with a rosemary-seasoned blend, and a medley of roasted vegetables that included cauliflower, onion, tomato, green beans, broccoli, beets, and carrots. The vegetables were delicious. We all agreed the carrots benefitted most from the roasting — they had a dense, soft texture and a flavorful, caramelized sweetness.

The crispy Thai chicken included a tender cooked wing, thigh, and drumstick in a green coconut sauce. Served alongside, was a portion of brown and wild rice, and a helping of roasted vegetables. The dish imparted the sweet side of Thai cuisine.

I enjoyed the ribs, which I found meaty, moist and tender. I was happy to discover the glaze on the ribs void of berry seeds, which wasn’t the case last I had them. Meat from the top half of the rack presented the spicy element in the glaze, while meat from the bottom, the sweet component.

Each dessert was a delectable finish to our meal. The crème brulée was softer than most with a light lemon essence, the chocolate lava cake was like a giant, mouth-watering serving of delightful ganache, and the fruit crisp presented the sweet, tart, and fresh goodness of fruit.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: From the starters, the meatballs with sweet and sour sauce sounded delicious. The menu also offered some of my favorites, such as a chicken pot pie, an iceberg wedge salad, and margherita pizza. The Thai chicken pizza, topped with poblano chili sauce, mozzarella, chicken, roasted garlic, roasted peppers, bamboo shoots, chopped peanuts, black sesame seeds, peanut sauce, and sweet chili sauce, sounded intriguing. And I’m always game for bread pudding — Hearth’s version comes as apple rum.

Other observations: The waitstaff was polite, knowledgeable, and attentive without being intrusive.

The flavors were impressive. I found the portions and quality well matched to the price.

Overall, the complete dinner experience was worth the drive. My dining companions and I arrived for an early dinner shortly after Hearth opened and followed it up with a movie in Vancouver for a satisfying and unrushed evening.

Cost: Starters range from $5.50 to $10.50. Salads are $6.50 to $8. Sides start at $2.50 and top out at $9.50 — chicken, smoked salmon, or prawns may be added for an additional cost. Wood oven specialties cost $14 to $22.50. Artisan pizzas are $13 to $15 — other than the kids’ cheese pizza, which is $6, and the kids’ pepperoni at $7. Desserts are $4 to $7 — plus $2 for à la mode.

Hours: 4 p.m. until close Tuesday through Saturday. Hearth Hour is 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Telephone: 360-210-7028.

Where: 1700 Main St., Suite 110, Washougal.

Online:hearthwashougal.com.

Health score: Hearth received a score of 5 on November 29. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.