The brick-trimmed drive that winds through Carillon Point wraps around a clutch of bell towers and borders a yacht-filled marina. On my way to the valet parking booth in front of Yarrow Bay Grill & Beach Café, I pass an elegant hotel, a jewelry store and a salon, and can't help thinking how much better a Maserati would suit this setting than my minivan.
A young man proffers a parking stub. "The salon?" he inquires. "No, the restaurant," I reply, and he quickly makes amends.
"Not that you need it," he gallantly assures me as I head inside to join the sundressed ladies lunching on the patio below.
Yarrow Bay Grill & Beach Café has the aura of an exclusive country club — but one where everyone who crosses the threshold becomes a member. As the name suggests, it is two restaurants in one, each just as good at pampering patrons as the parking attendant.
In the more casual Beach Café downstairs, the bar and lounge take center stage, servers are dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and the menu globe-trots according to the whims of chef Cameon Orel.
Upstairs at the pricier dinner-only Grill, white-clothed tables and neck-tied servers underscore its more formal, though far-from-stuffy atmosphere, and chef Vicky McCaffree pursues her own flights of fancy, hewing toward a Northwest-centric view of the world.
The food and mood vary, but the two restaurants share some important attributes: handsome contemporary décor; a gracious staff schooled in the nuances of customer service (though some are more practiced than others); seating that maximizes lake views; better-than-average children's menus; an extensive wine cellar that's international in scope; and Jessica Campbell, a pastry chef who works magic with ingredients both humble and haute.
Both menus change daily but maintain some long-running hits such as the Café's spirited rock-shrimp-and-andouille jambalaya ($13.99) and the Grill's elegant Thai seafood stew ($26), a chile-stoked lake of lemongrass, cilantro and coconut milk stocked with an abundance of shellfish and fin fish.
To augment the Grill's main menu, McCaffree recently introduced a $35 three-course "Chef's Menu." If you go that route, as a companion and I did one evening, you may choose an appetizer, salad and entree from a selection of three or four, many culled from the main menu but scaled down. It's a good value and a great way to experience McCaffree's range, though you wouldn't experience the extraordinary Kobe beef tataki ($18/appetizer). Served over sweet sautéed onions and wild mushrooms, the seared, sliced flesh is as soft as foie gras.
We began our three-course meal with a gift from the kitchen, an amuse bouche meant literally to amuse the mouth, which accurately describes the effect of sweet red and green grapes, musky tarragon and salty ricotta salata sprinkled with champagne vinaigrette.
Our appetizers were a smooth and sunny San Marzano tomato soup ($8 on the main menu) floating a gorgonzola crouton, and a clutch of briny Manila clams in a brawny sauce studded with onion, chorizo and bacon ($12).
Supremely fresh salads followed: mâche (lamb's lettuce) partnered with fresh peas, bacon and hard-cooked egg in port vinaigrette; and mesclun with balsamic roasted cherries, marcona almonds and chevre in pomegranate vinaigrette ($8).
As entrees we chose rack of lamb and seared "day boat" scallops ($25). The petite rack, two ribs with ruby-red centers and a crust of feta and herbs, came with a creamy chevre gratin. The golden scallops surrounded a small raft of asparagus topped with mashed potato, morels and mâche, and were set in an orange sea of truffle-oil-tinged carrot nage.
Where McCaffree's cooking shows refinement and restraint, Cameon Orel is all exuberance. Though lunch patrons seem to favor the Café's burgers, fish and chips, crab-topped Caesars and chicken-stuffed gyros, it's elsewhere on the menu that Orel gets to strut her stuff.
She fills halibut with brie, crab and shrimp, countering the richness with lemon and thyme in an exemplary beurre blanc ($21.99). She tucks ricotta and spinach under the skin of roasted chicken breast then piles on a bold tomato, garlic and caper relish ($12.99). Her "New Orleans crab cakes" ($10.69) paired with feisty caper and Tabasco-spiked remoulade, distills the spirit of The Big Easy.
Sometimes that exuberance backfires. Gin seems only to thin the smoked tomato sauce moistening an oddly deconstructed pasta: a knot of linguine ringed with prawns, artichoke hearts and spinach ($16.29). Chunky vegetables and too much sauce undermine the seafood stir-fry ($16.99), overburdened with a grapefruit-sized ball of sweet, sticky coconut rice plunked on top.
Never mind. Jessica Campbell's desserts will put an exclamation point (or two) on any meal here. Downstairs, indulge in a Nutty-Buddy brilliantly re-imagined as a peanut-butter mousse pie with whipped cream, chocolate and a chocolate cookie crust ($6.99).
Upstairs, she does wicked and wonderful things with berries, putting lavender in a tart crust and sneaking mascarpone into a strawberry shortcake semifreddo parfait ($7). Her dessert sampler ($10) is an especially tempting trio: silky and intense caramel and chocolate pot de crème, outstanding Valrhona chocolate cupcake and vanilla-kissed pineapple soup with a dollop of strawberry sour-cream sorbet.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com