by Sheri Boggs

Any big lake worth its spot on the map has at least a few of those joints where you dock the boat, come inside for faux nautical d & eacute;cor and hefty beers, and use all the comforts of a real landlubber bathroom. Coeur d'Alene has a number of such spots, from fancy floating Cedars to not-so-fancy Shooters down on Rockford Bay. But none capture the essence of Coeur d'Alene quite so accurately, perhaps, as the Beachouse.

Conveniently located just a mile or two from the center of town down Lake Coeur d'Alene Drive, the Beachouse - yeah, the spelling drove our copy editor nuts, too -- is clearly designed to fit in with a decorating scheme I'd like to call Early Hagadone. Featuring plenty of dockage with those familiar regulation bright blue awnings, lots of potted red geraniums, and a natural wood/gray/blue/white color scheme straight out of 1986, the place visually references Hagadone's other noteworthy properties on the northeast shore, the Coeur d'Alene Resort, the floating boardwalk and the golf course.

On the weekday we visited, it was amusing to note that we were easily the only people there under the age of 50. The Beachouse, like the golf course and the resort, seems to appeal most to a largely white, moneyed and older crowd. Undaunted, we took our seats out on the deck.

The menu consists of your basic pub fare, glammed up for a more upscale crowd. We considered things like the Cashew Chicken Salad ($8), the Crab Salad Sandwich ($9) and the Bacon Brie Buffalo Burger ($10) but finally went with the Tomato Mozzarella Salad ($9), the Beachouse Tacos ($8) and the Beyond the Reuben ($9).

After ordering, we waited. And waited and waited. It gave us ample time to check out such wildlife as a mother duck with no less than 16 ducklings in tow, as well as the constant aeronautical show put on by the resident swallows. But by the time the food arrived we were faint with hunger and most dismayed to find that the Beachouse Tacos came packed with beef, not the seafood we'd asked for. Luckily, the waitstaff quickly fixed the problem. The new and improved tacos arrived in under five minutes.

The Reuben, supposedly designed to be an improvement on the Thousand Island-drenched original, offered stone-ground mustard instead of dressing and shredded cabbage instead of sauerkraut. While the pastrami was "tender, no-fat and delicious," our taster Amy missed the tang of real Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut. She did, however, approve of the French fries with their skins intact, declaring them "good."

My Tomato Mozzarella salad consisted of slices of tomato alternated with slices of fresh mozzarella, arranged next to a pile of spring greens in a red wine garlic vinaigrette. The greens were a little fancier than usual -- I found watercress and basil among all the usual lettuces - and any place that knows to use fresh mozzarella gets big points with me. Unfortunately the dressing was really sharp -- the vinegar left an acidic bite that did nothing for the tomatoes or the greens. The earthy sweetness of balsamic vinegar combined with garlicky olive oil would have been a better choice.

Over on Cara's plate, the fish tacos seemed to enjoy their last few moments with a companion pile of garlic mashed potatoes. Cara liked that the tacos - comprised of sea salted and deeply marinated mini-shrimp and whitefish - came in lightly fried corn tortillas that were "a nice touch, seeing as many fish tacos come with cold, breaking corn tortillas." She said they were pretty oily, but delicious as long as no one was trying to lose weight. The mashed potatoes were reported to be perfect, with no lumps and no discomfiting overabundance of garlic.

Service was sweet, if not terribly speedy or even competent. Our server needed to come back and check our order not once but twice. But he was so genuinely apologetic about the matter, it was hard to hold it against him. The music was your basic summergoodtimes blend of Dave Matthews, classic rock, and vintage Gloria Estefan.

One thing that commends the Beachouse is that many of their options are designed to work for the healthy diet-conscious. In addition to the Atkins Friendly Wrap ($8), the sandwiches and specialties come with the choice of fresh fruit instead of fries or mashed taters. All in all, the Beachouse is not a bad place to park the boat and have a nice lunch or dinner after a hot day on the lake.

Publication date: 07/01/04

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