First and foremost, every restaurant has a bad day. An employee calls in sick just before a shift, the food supplier doesn’t deliver an item that’s been ordered for that day’s meals, or the chef tries something that looked good on paper but just doesn’t work out.
So as a restaurant reviewer I am aware of those — and a dozen other factors — when I visit and write a review. I always try to be fair and honest because I realize a bad or unfair review can really hurt the owners and staff.
Recently on a visit to Fargher Lakehouse I discovered a young couple who have taken on the ownership of a quite attractive place, but seem to be making too many mistakes and don’t yet have a clear personality to their menu. I applaud their desire, passion and interest in serving their community. But to survive in the rough and tumble restaurant world, they are going to have to up their game.
On arrival, we were quickly seated and hungrily eyed the appetizers. After all, the 30-mile drive from Vancouver to the Lakehouse had piqued our hunger. We lusted after the Windy Mountain Mushroom Crostini ($10.99) but were told the restaurant was out of those ‘shrooms. Then we decided to share their Beer Cheese Fondue ($14.99) and the calamari ($12.99).
But alas, neither one thrilled us. The calamari was bland, and the accompanying basil aioli was just as bland. The Beer Cheese Fondue was unattractively plated, with greasy thick coins of andouille sausage, odd chunks of green apple and seared “steak bites,” which weren’t. Seared that is. The pretzel was nice, both chewy and soft.
On to the entrees. We passed on the pasta selections including: Shrimp Scampi ($18.99), Butternut Squash Ravioli ($17.99), Shells and Cheese ($15.99), and stroganoff ($14.99), which came the closest to being ordered. Next time perhaps. Four burger choices included the FL Cheese Burger with Tillamook white cheddar ($13.99), BBQ Bacon ($16.99), Cracked Pepper ($14.99), Wild Caught Halibut ($12.99), and an intriguing Elk Burger ($17.99).
We did however go for the Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken ($16.99) and the Grass Fed Angus Flat Iron Steak ($28.99).
First, the chicken presentation wasn’t particularly appealing. The two thighs placed atop a barely warm mound of potatoes was crammed up against a tangle of sliced apples, onions and what may have been carrots. We both thought it tasted quite good, despite the poor presentation.
The steak was one of the worst steaks I have ever been served. I literally couldn’t cut it with the restaurant’s serrated steak knife, discovering a gnarly line of sinew and cartilage that I never could cut through. It went back.
The server offered a substitute, so I ordered the French dip sandwich. But alas, it was a grilled hoagie roll with three very thin slices of dry, flavorless beef that were almost impossible to find underneath all the Swiss cheese and grilled onions.
Although this dinner wasn’t top drawer, the food pictures on their Facebook page made me want to give them a second chance. So I went back for a second look and believe my previous visit was merely on one of those bad days.
My dining friend chose the Butternut Squash Ravioli ($17.99) and was delighted by the presentation and loved every ravioli to death. She called it “quite delicious.” The generous portion of ravioli was filled with flavorful squash, and heavily drizzled with a mouthwatering sage and cream sauce.
Little old meat-eater me ordered the half rack of the St. Louis Braised Pork Ribs ($17.99), which were fall-off-the-bone tender, as promised by the menu, with a caramelized exterior and perfect coat of their sweet and smoky housemade barbecue sauce. The dish came with a Mediterranean potato salad that was creative and included capers, peppers, and Kalamata olives, and a disappointing red cabbage slaw in a very Spartan, almost tasteless squirt or two of an unknown vinegary dressing.
For dessert we tried the same two that we sampled last time. The flourless chocolate cake was rich and satisfying and vanished in a nanosecond. The lemon tart was mounded with a small mountain of fresh whipped cream, the filling deliciously lemony.
Overall I’m glad I went back. Fargher Lakehouse deserved a second look, and I think it will blossom as time goes along. The personable owner and chef has a bright future ahead of him. So give them a shot after a scenic drive out of Battle Ground.
Oh and the very good news: The restaurant will soon be getting a top-of-the-line barbecue grill with a smoker so those ribs, steaks and roasts don’t have to be braised. Instead they can be grilled or smoked for a real barbecue flavor.