by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he sun was shining through broken clouds and the mercury approached 70 degrees as Natasha and I popped the sunroof and slipped out of town for an early dinner. More clouds rolled in as we drove north on Highway 395, and by the time we reached Chewelah, gray skies arched overhead and a definite chill had settled in. But no matter -- that's what spring in the Inland Northwest is all about.
Just south of Colville, I turned off the highway sharply and angled up the steep gravel driveway to Lovitt Restaurant, the intimate dining establishment run by Norman and Kristen Six. The 1908 Queen Anne farmhouse perches on a hill, facing west, so the dining rooms -- and the wraparound front porch -- have a knockout view of the broad Colville valley and the Kettle Range beyond.
Norman grew up in northeast Washington; after making his name in Chicago's dining scene, he and Kristen, a Chicago native, moved to Colville last year to be closer to his family. Norman handles the kitchen duties while Kristen takes care of the guests -- and you couldn't ask for a friendlier, more knowledgeable server.
About half of Lovitt's 28 seats were full when we arrived; over the next two hours, the Friday dinner business was brisk, but not mobbed. In summer, the seating capacity doubles, thanks to tables on the porch and an attached deck. Still, it's a good idea to call ahead for reservations if possible.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e started with a glass of wine: a China Bend Marechal Foch ($8) for me, and a glass of Huck ($5), a fairly sweet white with huckleberry, for Natasha. The freshly baked rolls that arrived soon after were a delight, small and warm with a chewy crust and toothsome interior; they were marvelous plain and perfect when slathered with butter. I ate two, which was probably a mistake, but worth it. Next we tried one of the three appetizers: a thin house-made flatbread ($7) topped with goat cheese, garlic, Greek-style olives and cabrito -- young goat. Kristen compared the cabrito to lamb, and to my taste it was even more mildly flavored than most lamb. Topped with slivers of newly sprouted garlic shoots -- straight from the farmhouse garden -- this appetizer gave us the local flavor of spring.
Lovitt's menu is a la carte, so if you want a salad, you order a salad. And that's just what I did, opting for the Caesar ($5). The crunchy Romaine lettuce was dressed with real Caesar dressing -- mild on the garlic and anchovy, but rich with the flavor and unforgettable texture of farm-fresh eggs. (If you're squeamish about egg texture, however, it might be best to go with the other salad choice, which on this night was a spinach salad.) Natasha went with the soup of the day ($4), Asian beef and cabbage. The first bite tasted a little salty, she said -- probably due to the soy sauce in the broth -- but after that it settled into just plain delicious. The cabbage retained a little al dente crunch, and she raved about the flavor and texture of the beef.
For my entr & eacute;e, I chose the daily special -- made-from-scratch tagliatelle pasta mixed with a beef ragout: tender chunks of beef in a hearty sauce of beef broth, demi-glace, red wine and tomato ($15). The generous portion was more than I could handle, but the leftovers made a marvelous meal the next day.
Natasha tried the Lovitt burger ($9), a patty topped with Cougar Gold cheddar, caramelized onions, tomato and lettuce, and served with crisply roasted wedges of potatoes from nearby Olsen Farm. "Huckleberry wine and a burger make a great combination!" she enthused. We both commented on the distinctive flavor and texture of the beef -- grass-finished beef raised right in Stevens County at the Lazy Lightning H Ranch.
After the meal, we couldn't stop, even though we were both stuffed. Kristen listed off the desserts: warm peach cobbler with whipped cream; a blueberry sundae with house-made honey vanilla ice cream; a banana cream filling sandwiched between two sugar cookies; chocolate bonbons with raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Given our limited capacity, we picked the bonbons -- four little orbs, like fudgy brownie spheres, coated in chocolate ganache and arranged on a plate amid a swirl of tangy raspberry sauce and freshly whipped cream ($6).
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & n the drive back to Spokane, Natasha couldn't stop talking about the meal. "Nadia," she said -- she's taken to calling me Nadia lately; her husband is now Boris -- "it was welcoming, comfortable, pastoral, calming... and not one morsel passed my lips that wasn't scrumptious!" (She often speaks in exclamation points, but that's nothing new.)
And Lovitt is worthy of enthusiastic punctuation. A dinner at Lovitt is like having dinner at a friend's house -- if your friend is a really accomplished cook who uses only the freshest local ingredients and puts them together into simple, hearty dishes. The menu is relatively small, and it changes as foods move in and out of season, especially the many locally sourced items. With the warm weather coming on, I'm looking forward to spending an evening outdoors on the verandah, and I know I'll want to return to check out the Sunday brunch specials. After hearing about the dessert choices, Natasha suggested that we come back just for tea and dessert sometime. It's that kind of place -- once you try it, you've got to love it.