Dining Out: Lapellah puts creative thought into its dishes

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Why: Lapellah is one of the finer dining spots in Clark County and has become a local favorite. The menu offers a balance of meat options, from seafood to the signature Lapellah Burger, made with Carlton Farms Oregon beef, as well as a few salads, soups, and sides creatively prepared. It is a family-friendly restaurant — though the selections and atmosphere are most suited for the adult crowd.

Atmosphere: When the restaurant is busy, the noise of activity makes for a somewhat lively environment. Booths in the back half of the restaurant are more intimate than the many tables at the front, where the bar is. The décor incorporates some unlikely elements in an original space that is both attractive and interesting.

What I tried: To begin our meal, my dining companion and I ordered the Brick Oven Spinach and Artichoke Dip. I also had the Truffled Beet Salad with frisée, marinated beets, truffled salt and house-made mozzarella. For my entrée, I chose the Brick Oven Roasted Chicken Breast with confit potatoes, roasted parsnips, honey glazed carrots and mustard pan sauce. My dining companion sampled the French Onion soup and had the Grilled Reister Farms Leg of Lamb for his entrée. The lamb came with arborio rice pilaf, local broccolini and fire-roasted red pepper coulis. For dessert, we sampled the Pear and Cranberry Crumble.

One highlight of the meal was the spinach and artichoke dip. In my opinion, most restaurants serve this variety of dip as an over-processed, over-rich paste — often accompanied by stale chips or French bread. Lapellah's version is all about freshness. Instead of being puréed, the artichoke is diced small, and a few whole baby spinach leaves are incorporated into the mix. The dish is heated through in the oven, where the bread-crumb topping becomes golden. Served with sizzling-hot flat bread sprinkled with fresh parsley, the result is deliciously appetizing.

My dining companion enjoyed the French onion soup, but it lacked the customary baked cheese topping.

The beet salad contained red and yellow beets that were roasted to perfection. Although goat cheese is often the cheese of choice for a beet salad, Lapellah uses its house-made mozzarella. I found it very mild, and it had a beer-like flavor when eaten with the beets.

Both entrées were generously sized. The chicken arrived piping hot, juicy and tender; the lamb was well-seasoned and lukewarm. The accompaniments for both entrées were expertly paired with the meats. The root vegetables alongside the chicken were sweet and wholesome. House-made sausage bits incorporated into the rice pilaf brought a tasty Italian flavor together with the lamb.

The crumble completed our meal on a high note. It had fresh-fruit sweetness and a delightful graham cracker streusel on top, which was pleasantly absent any granular sugar texture. I appreciated that the fruit wasn't drowning in sugary syrup. A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream sat atop the crumble, slowly melting, adding its creamy goodness to the dessert below.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: An Open Flame Paella is on the menu.

The Rustic Seafood Stew, with seared halibut, shrimp, mussels and squid, sounded perfect for a cold winter day and the Brick Oven Roasted Cauliflower and the Beets and Brussels Sprouts from the sides to share sounded intriguing to me.

I might treat myself to a dessert-only visit in the near future to try the Eggnog Crème Brulée, which comes with molasses crinkle cookies.

Saturday and Sunday brunch includes Corned Beef Hash, Eggs Benedict, and an Andouille and Peppers Omelette, as well as a few traditional breakfast choices.

Other observations: We were served water immediately after being seated, but a half hour passed after we placed our order before the soup and salad arrived. In addition, at the close of our meal there was another significant stretch of time before our check arrived.

Overall, the meal was satisfying — exceeding most expectations. The service was friendly and mostly attentive. Because there was no explanation given for the time lapse between placing our order and the first sight of food, I am left to conclude that is the norm, so be prepared to stay a while.

Cost: Sides, soup, salad and starters start at $4 and top out at $16. Dinner entrées cost $10 to $24. Desserts are $5 to $7.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Happy Hour is 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day, as well as 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Telephone: 360-828-7911

Where: 2520 Columbia House Boulevard, Suite 108, Vancouver.

Online:http://lapellah.com

Health score: Lapellah received a score of 10 on August 24. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.