Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The View Point Inn: Not just a pretty view

Sadly, the View Point Inn burned in summer of 2011 and is still closed, possibly forever.

Today I’m taking my mom for a special birthday lunch. We’re dining at the historic View Point Inn, which sits perched high on a bluff near the western edge of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon. (For you Twilight fans, this is where Bella and Edward danced together under the stars at the Forks High School prom—about 200 miles from the real Forks, Washington.)

A Discovery

While driving up the old Columbia River Gorge Highway several years ago, I noticed a large gable-roofed building just past the cutoff to Larch Mountain. We stopped and discovered a vacant but charming 1920s-vintage villa. I immediately saw a diamond in the rough; with expansive lawns and steps leading down to an abandoned fountain in the garden, it just needed some polishing up.

I peered inside the multi-paned windows and saw a massive stone fireplace and wood floors. The view from the place was absolutely smashing—the Columbia River stretched west for miles toward the horizon, sprinkled with islands. The bluff below plunged hundreds of feet into a verdant green forest. What a gem!

After doing a little research, I discovered the property opened in 1924 as an inn. For several decades it drew fancy guests such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hollywood stars, and European aristocrats until it closed and fell into disrepair. Now it's on the National Register of Historic Places.

A Fantasy
I fantasized about enlisting my chef friend Ed, fixing the place up, and reopening it as a destination restaurant. (Never mind that my only restaurant experience was a few months at a fish ‘n chips joint as a teenager.) It was set above my beloved Columbia Gorge, and I envisioned exciting possibilities for featuring local food. I even dreamt about it one night. A few years later I heard it finally opened again.

A Meal
So here we are on an early fall afternoon at a window table in the sun porch, overlooking the garden and panorama beyond. A starched white linen tablecloth covers the table, adorned with a sweet little cup of pink flowers and a sprig of rosemary from the garden. To get here we passed through the spacious main room, where a fire crackles in the rustic fireplace and the chandeliers glow warm. It has the feel of the classic old National Park lodges, like Paradise Inn on Mount Rainier, but on a smaller scale.

A glance at the menu shows a focus on local food and flavors. (Great minds think alike, right?) “Are the prawns from the Oregon coast?” I ask our very friendly and personable waiter. “Yes they are,” he replies. We split the prawn cocktail appetizer, the roasted breast of fowl (chicken today) with balsamic-drizzled greens and roasted fingerling potatoes, and order a side of crusty, fresh olive-flecked bread.

Although the chicken entree is quite good, the highlight of our meal is the tender but firm and flavorful prawns. After reading about the nasty environmental effects of shrimp and prawn farms in Southeast Asia, I only order fresh, local shrimp anymore. Fortunately here in the Northwest we can get wonderful wild spot prawns and baby shrimp.

A Walk in the Garden
After we polish off our lunch, it’s time for a stroll in the garden. Since the phenomenal success of the Twilight movie, this is now a regular stop for teenaged girls and other, mostly young women. We see some girls posing for photos beneath a remnant from the movie set in the garden–-a tall black portal that reads Monte Carlo Casino. (Or something like that.)

Lush herbs and flowers line the building, and elegant old concrete pots interspersed along the pathways sprout trailing greenery.

Neon orange carp loll beneath lily pads in the pond surrounding the restored fountain. Catching a whiff of late-blooming lavender, I linger here as my mom enjoys the view from the patio above.

As we’re leaving, a family is checking in for the night. This is, after all, an inn, with four rooms upstairs above the dining room. I want to come back and spend an evening curled up on one of the huge sofas in front of the fireplace with a good book. Thanksgiving weekend perhaps?

When You Go
The View Point Inn is just 22 miles east of Portland (click here for a map and directions). Call ahead for reservations. Although we didn’t have any trouble getting in for lunch on a Saturday, it might be a very different story around the holidays. Check out their special events here. Our lunch came to about $40 with tip, which included an appetizer, an entrée, a side of bread, and tea.

To make it an even more scenic trip, drive through downtown Troutdale, up the Sandy River Gorge, and through Springdale and Corbett, with a stop at the Portland Women’s Forum State Park (Chanticleer Point) for the spectacular view east up the Gorge. After your meal, continue on down the old Columbia River Highway past numerous waterfalls and stop to hike off your lunch at Wahkeena or Multnomah Falls. Also, the aging historic building still needs preservation work, so click here and scroll down the page to donate a dollar to help out.


Janis said...

Jill, I really enjoyed the post. Hopefully someday I'll have lunch there too.

Katie said...

Thanks for this, Jill, sounds lovely. I'm going to forward it to my Portland folks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jill,
I enjoyed your lunch and the beauty of the food, table, scenery. Thanks for sharing. Next time we visit our Portland friends, I'll suggest the View Point Inn for lunch.

Barry said...

Wow! It's now on the list!

Thanks, Jill.


Mary Lou said...

Nice job and I can see a book in the package..

John said...

Nice story and pictures, Jill. Angela and I will have to stop there sometime.


Jill said...

Janis - I hope to have lunch with you there sometime!

Katie- Thanks for forwarding to your Portland people!

Suzan - Hope you make it to Portland and head up the Gorge for lunch there, you'll be glad you did.

Barry - let me know if you make it there.

Mary Lou - Thanks for the kind words.

John- Hey, remember it was with you and Angela that I first discovered this place?

Heather said...

Hi Jill, I ran across your blog while researching for a story about viewpoint inn for Yakima Magazine. We are interested in possibly printing some of your photography. Do you have high resolution photos that you could send me?
My phone number is 509*577-7647


Heather Caro