In a county where we squelch through almost 170 rainy days per year, the few (mostly) precipitation-free summer months lure us out of our homes and into the great outdoors. Decks, porches and patios become fair-weather dining rooms.
Indeed, there’s nothing like a meal eaten al fresco. The warm breezes and blue skies enhance each bite and every sip.
Vancouver’s new waterfront development, with its river sights and walking paths, is an obvious summer dining destination for many. But sometimes it’s nice to treat your eyes to new views.
Here are three off-the-beaten-path places to bask in the open air while filling your belly and quenching your thirst.
Floating above the rest
If you still crave a river view, you can’t get closer than Puffin Cafe, which floats right on the water.
The restaurant, next to the boat launch in the Port of Camas-Washougal’s marina, serves Caribbean-inspired cuisine and tropical cocktails with names such as Pirate’s Brew and Bahama Mama. It’s also just a stone’s throw from the new Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail, where you can take in stunning views of Mount Hood on an after-dinner stroll or let the kids romp in the park’s new natural play area.
Puffin Cafe offers both indoor and outdoor seating. With floor-to-ceiling windows thrown open to catch river breezes, even the indoor tables make diners feel as though they’re outside — or better yet, on a boat, since waves gently rock the restaurant.
The cafe is on the small side, so at peak times the wait can be as long as an hour. The minutes pass quickly when there’s so much to see: motorboats and yachts coming and going, boats being slowly slipped into the water before a leisurely afternoon on the waves. Occasionally, a boat or jet ski will pull right up to the cafe and someone will hop out to pick up an order of Coconut Shrimp, Jerk Chicken Tacos or Cajun-rubbed Calypso Burgers.
For the kids, a pirate’s chest full of tiny treasures is lowered from the ceiling by rope and pulley — a moment of delight before returning to the world of landlubbers.
View from the veranda
Named for President Ulysses S. Grant, who never lived in the building but served at Fort Vancouver from 1852 to 1854, the Grant House has long been one of Vancouver’s “special occasion” destinations. Eatery at the Grant House, the newest restaurant to inhabit this historic structure, is still such a place. But its delights don’t end with the dining room: the wide, welcoming veranda offers some of Clark County’s best outdoor tables.
During the warmer months, there’s hardly a more pleasant place to pass a happy hour (or two or three). Order a mint julep from the fully stocked Officers Whiskey Bar and, with all that Civil War-era architecture as your backdrop, you might feel like you’re on the set of “Gone with the Wind.” Every Friday you can enjoy live music. Every Wednesday you can relinquish your cares with yoga and cocktails, a truly inspired idea.
After cocktails and small plates — such as the glorious charcuterie board, which changes weekly but can include delicacies such as port-marbled cheddar, pickled sultanas and thinly sliced cured ham — ask to visit the second-story veranda. Perched above the parade grounds of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the view from this height includes the Vancouver Barracks, a peek of the reconstructed fort and the green scrim of Portland’s far hills framed by lush maples and oaks. The second story isn’t open for food or drink service, but you can relax in one of the sturdy Adirondack chairs facing south to the Columbia. Whatever is troubling you, take a lesson from Scarlett O’Hara and resolve to think about it … tomorrow.
North county gem
Moulton Falls Winery in Yacolt is a bit of a drive from Vancouver, but that only increases its charm. Make a day of it and stop at scenic destinations along the way: See the salmon jumping at Lucia Falls, hike along the East Fork Lewis River to the Moulton Falls Bridge or dip your toes in the cool water at Yacolt Creek Falls.
When you arrive at the winery — just south of Yacolt, with a gravelly driveway that crosses the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad tracks — make your way around back to the broad patio with ample seating and picnic benches scattered across the lawn.
Order wine and food at the highly polished wooden bar in the indoor tasting room, which is open year-round. Eats on offer include wood-fired pizzas, salads and wine-friendly snacking plates. Note the large selection of hard ciders brewed from local fruit and berries; the hazy, sweet Honey Lavender Cider is a seasonal favorite.
Settle into your seat under a ceiling of sky and feast your eyes on the postcard-worthy Cascade foothills that surround the winery. Sip your cider, sangria or syrah, watch the purple martins dip and dive overhead and consider your good fortune to have discovered such a place.
It’s also a fantastic spot for an early date night. After 6 p.m., only kids 14 and older are allowed. On Saturday evenings, live music from the patio’s covered stage enhances the whole experience.