Dining Out: Roots stumbles a bit on path to greatness

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian neighborhood news coordinator

Published:

 

Winemaker dinner

Roots regularly hosts special winemaker dinners. A Maryhill Winery night will be held 6 p.m. Jan. 24. Cost: $75 a person plus tax and tip.

Roots has admirable ambitions.

Owner and Chef Brad Root leads a team that clearly cares about giving the customer a standout experience. From welcomingly warm interior design to perfectly plated dishes, the Camas fine-dining restaurant carries a torch for the culinary arts. Freshness is the name of the game at Roots Restaurant & Bar, with a strong focus on seasonal and Northwest-farmed ingredients.

During two December dinnertime visits, I found Roots made for an enjoyable night out. The dining room was designed with care, making for a sleek, yet still inviting, atmosphere. The decorative elements work well together, especially the open kitchen, always a good sign that an establishment has nothing to hide.

The other half of Roots is the relaxing lounge, where you can nosh during the daily 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour on a nice selection of specially priced drinks and small plates, including a top-sirloin Roots burger with grilled onions ($7.50) and a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, livened up with pancetta, walnuts and radish ($5.50).

But by choosing to operate under the self-imposed “upscale dining” banner, as Roots describes itself, an eatery should hit home runs with every dish, especially when its customers could easily pay $100 on a dinner for two. And that’s where Roots falters a bit.

On my first Roots experience, I left with a disappointed belly after I couldn’t bring myself to even make it halfway through my 12 ounce rib-eye steak ($29.50) that was served coated in black char -- well past the point of a suitable sear. With each gritty, charcoal-flavored bite, I grew more upset that such a pricey travesty would be sent to my table. The chef and server should have taken one look at the burnt meat and tossed it right in the trash where it belonged.

Had my server inquired about how the meal tasted I would have told the truth, but I was never asked.

The steak disaster was a bitter end to what was shaping up as a satisfying meal, complete with a refreshingly subtle cauliflower soup ($9) and bursting-with-flavor crispy duck confit with cranberry pear bread pudding and black pepper honey ($8.50). The day boat scallops ($11) lacked such a wallop of taste, even with an accompanying celery root and truffle aioli.

It should be pointed out when I returned to Roots two weeks later to give the steak another go, I was thankful to have had a much better experience. In round two, the medium-rare Cascade Natural steak was perfectly prepared, albeit under-seasoned. It was night and day over the prior visit -- warmly pink in the center surrounded by a brown sear on the outside to seal in the juices. That time I was thrilled to scrap my plate clean.

During the same visit, the seared salmon ($26), served with what sounded like an appealing mix of fennel, orange and olives atop crushed potatoes with bacon, did not live up to its price or promise. The medium-cooked salmon’s flavor was flat and the accompaniments were sparse; the orange was nearly nonexistent and the thinly sliced fennel did little to liven the plate. The hearty bacon potatoes were superb, but the salmon should have stood out as the hero of the dish.

I was impressed by the small plate selections, especially the bang they give for your buck. For the price of two entrees, you can top the table with an amazing array — from the aforementioned duck confit to a Walla Walla onion tart ($8) to mussels with shallots, garlic, chardonnay and saffron ($11.50).

The restaurant’s devotion to meal presentation, decor and smiling service should be applauded, but at times it feels like some corners are being cut when it comes to the food. Fine dining isn’t defined by dropping a day’s wages on dinner, it’s about laser-focused attention to detail and flavors that reverberate from the tongue through the body.

Roots should continue along its admirable path to greatness, but not lose hold of what truly makes a grand dining experience: food prepared with love and care.

Hours: Serving brunch, lunch and dinner between 11:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour in the lounge runs from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and from 9 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Contact: 360-260-3001.

Web: Roots Restaurant & Bar.

Where: 19215 S.E. 34th St., Suite 110, Camas.

Health score: Roots Restaurant & Bar received a score of 15 on Dec. 27. Zero is a perfect rating, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.