The Loft

Dangerously delicious

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The sun was setting over the San Juan Islands as we sat down at the Loft at Latitude Four Eighty Five for dinner recently, and the view was breathtaking.

In the foreground, luxury boats and yachts were a few feet away in the Squalicum Harbor, while in the background the islands’ mountainous peaks were serenaded by the sunset. With a view like this, the Loft makes for a stunning dinner venue.

Unless you’re a frequent visitor to Squalicum Harbor you might not be familiar with this restaurant, which opened in July 2013 not far from Bellwether Way and serves lunch and dinner. The Loft sits midway between casual and elegant, which means it’s a good place to demolish a burger and watch the game if you’re out in your jeans and sweater. But if you’re in the mood for dressing up and ordering a porterhouse steak or a fine plate of halibut cheeks, you won’t feel out of place here either.

All the wood tables and chairs offer a view of the harbor, and in the summer, two garage-style glass doors open the restaurant to an outdoor patio and give it a full outdoor ambience.

It was homecoming night for a local school the Saturday we stopped by and we were thrilled to watch the excitement of several groups of finely attired 15-year-olds who had chosen the Loft for dinner. Other tables were occupied by couples on dinner dates and a happy, atmospheric buzz filled the restaurant.

I’d met local chef Steve Engels a few years ago when he worked with the Lighthouse Restaurant at the Hotel Bellwether, so I know firsthand he’s both talented and creative. Now at the helm of the Loft, he’s assembled a beautiful menu full of familiar features—but he’s also thrown in a few “out there” dishes for those in the mood for some ingenious plates.

We started with avocado fries, an appetizer composed of fried avocado slices dredged in a spicy Sriracha batter and served with chipotle aioli. The $12 appetizer was a melt-in-your-mouth comfort food that testifies to Engels’ willingness to think outside the box.

Other interesting features include the bacon-wrapped prawns, the “smash burger” ($16.50; patties comprised of petit filet mignon, bacon, onion, jalapenos, cheddar and Havarti) and the seafood chimichanga ($26), a fried tortilla filled with crab, scallops, prawns, vegetables and cream).

The fall/winter menu was still at the printers so I tried the watermelon quinoa salad ($14), a summery dish composed of baby kale and cucumbers, feta, watermelon and quinoa. It was light and pleasing, though a bit heavy on the vinaigrette. We ordered a couple of entrees, the best of which was a chicken assembly of a pan-seared chicken breast served with a medley of potato gnocchi with butternut, broccolini, roasted cranberries and apple slaw. This was the perfect autumn dish: a gorgeous composition that was filling as well as deeply reminiscent of its seasonality.

My pan-seared halibut cheeks ($29.90) also contained Engels’ unique touches. Served on a bed of spinach, maitake mushrooms, citrus shoyu and shaved asparagus, they included an intriguing side of hops foam.

We completed our meal with apple bread pudding, another irresistible fall feature comprised of apples, cranberries and salted caramel sauce. Service throughout the meal was fast, personable and friendly and the meal was tasty and enjoyable.

The Loft is not an eat-fast, get-out-quick kind of eatery, but rather a restaurant where you want to take your time over a glass of wine and enjoy a meal out for which you’re willing to spend a little extra. You’ll see those slightly heftier prices in some of the special entrees—but you can also get away with a $13 Loft Burger if you’re feeling cash-strapped.

The new seasonal menu will be out soon and Engels will be showcasing a prawn peanut bowl with black sticky rice and a soft-shell crab burger with sweet chili sauce. Plenty of gluten-free and vegan items can be found on the menu, as well as a good selection of entrée-size salads and veggie bowls, pasta dishes, wraps and tacos. This winter, a second location is opening next to Applebee’s on Sunset Drive. Look for it to open during the holiday season.

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