Dining Out: Brighter new Oak Tree welcomes traveling diners

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Why: After several years, owners and attempts at reinventing itself, some might agree that the Oak Tree Restaurant has undergone its best renovation yet. Some might also agree that it's nothing short of a miracle that the Oak Tree has survived since 1968. The recent transformation has brought a brighter and more welcoming vibe to the casual, family-friendly restaurant. A full range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items are similar to the offerings found at roadside diners.

Atmosphere: Gone are the long, dimly lit passages that once flanked the dining area. The gift shop, which once held a fascinating potpourri, has been replaced by a closed-off room (not yet commissioned for a specific purpose) behind a cashier's counter. The dining floor has essentially the same layout as before, offering booth dining as well as a section of tables and chairs. Much of the former furniture remains, but appears less dated with the brighter surroundings. Light fixtures are updated, adding a warm glow, with old-world styled elegance.

What I tried: My dining companions and I decided on the pizzelle fritte from the appetizers. I settled on the honey Dijon chicken with vegetables and an Oak Tree dinner salad. My dining companions had the fish and chips and the classic Reuben sandwich with potato salad.

The waitress forgot our appetizer and consequently delivered it after our entrees. A pizzelle fritte is traditionally a fried pizza, but Oak Tree's rendition is akin to a quesadilla without the top tortilla. On the tortilla base, a light amount of cream cheese was topped with a spare amount of chopped tomatoes and green onions. Uniformly placed were small cooked shrimp, bare of additional seasonings. Simple ingredients produce simple results — sometimes this works to rouse one's appetite for greater things, sometimes it doesn't. It didn't particularly do anything for me or my dining companions. My first thought was, "Why didn't they grill the shrimp?" followed by, "This looks like a creation from a kids cookbook." I believe it's a good start to something that could be much better.

My entree was a thin breaded chicken breast, fried and drizzled with a honey Dijon and white wine sauce, and a vegetable medley of yellow squash, zucchini, red bell peppers and red onions. The chicken's strong fried flavor lingered after each bite and the sauce was more sweet than mustardy, without the richness I expect in a wine sauce. A fair amount of crisp was left on the vegetables, perfect if you prefer eating your vegetables raw. I found the salad very appetizing and refreshing. With fresh mixed greens topped with beets and sunflower seeds, it arrived "refrigerator cold" just as a salad of this nature should.

The fish and chips, made with cod loin, were comparable to many others. A small cup of coleslaw and tartar sauce were served alongside.

The classic Reuben sandwich was made with thick slices of marbled rye bread, housemade Thousand Island dressing, and a bit more sauerkraut than corned beef. The potato salad was chunky with a very mild flavor, due to the sheer size of the chunks of potato, which had a tendency to overwhelm the other ingredients -- another case of something that could be much better.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Prime rib is served every Friday and Saturday.

Other observations: It still feels like the Oak Tree has a ghost of a hotel attached to it, especially with the cashier's counter just through the entrance, which appears more than ever like a hotel front desk.

The food didn't wow me, but neither does Shari's, which I believe to be a fair comparison.

Cost: Dinner starters are $6.99 to $9.99. Entree salads cost $8.99 to $10.49. Sandwiches and burgers range from $7.29 to $10.89. Pasta dishes are between $9.99 and $13.99. Seafood and specialty dishes range from $10.49 to $26.99. The lunch menu is basically the sandwich, burger, soup and salad offerings of the dinner menu. Most items on the breakfast menu are just under $10, though the early-bird menu maxes out at $7.99.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Early-bird hours are 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. Lunch is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner begins at 4 p.m. Happy hour is all day every day in the lounge.

Where: 1020 Atlantic Ave., Woodland.

Telephone: 360-841-8567

Web: oaktreerestaurantwa.com.

Health Score: Oak Tree Restaurant received a pre-opening inspection and is scheduled for a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score. Restaurants that have a score of 75 or more violation points may be subject to closure by the Cowlitz County Health Department. For more information, call 360-414-5599.