On a soft summer evening, my friend and I are lounging on the white wooden veranda of Lovitt Restaurant, overlooking Colville Valley-a patchwork of farms as far as we can see.
We've driven 65 miles from Spokane to the remote reaches of northeast Washington for nothing more than a good meal.
A full-on feast, actually, at the much talked-about Lovitt, a 1908 farmhouse turned contemporary farm-to-table restaurant that seems somewhat out of step in this low-key logging town of 5,000, where prime rib and pizza have always reigned supreme.
Although Colville boasts a fine museum, the shaded trails of Colville National Forest, paddling on Lake Roosevelt, and breathtaking mountain scenery, it's never been a popular tourist destination, much less touted as a culinary hot spot-but that's all changing.
Two years ago, Norman and Kristen Six sold their thriving Chicago restaurant and headed home-Norman grew up just east of Colville-with hopes of replicating their success in a smaller community.
More important was their desire to get back to the basics. "We wanted to buy produce from the farmers at our local market, and know the rancher who supplies our grass-fed beef," Norman says.
"And we hoped to grow our own herbs and greens," adds Kristen, who manages the front of the house. "We looked at towns all along the Washington and northern Oregon coasts, but so many are 'T-shirty'-we wanted the real deal."
They found it here in northeast Washington, where the pace is easy, the people are friendly, and, as we're about to discover, the produce is bountiful.
"Just feed us," we say, as we settle in at our porch table and await the parade of seasonal, regionally inspired dishes, each one painstakingly prepared.
We begin with buttery chive crackers, whose imperfect edges attest to their hand-rolled origin, topped with house-smoked wild salmon. Summer-fresh salads follow, overflowing with heirloom tomatoes and mixed greens, picked from the Sixes' own garden and sprinkled with goat cheese fetched by Kristen that morning from the farm across the valley.
Chef Norman smokes the ham for his hand-pinched raviolis himself and roasts peaches from local farms alongside the garlic- and oregano-rubbed chicken (pastured by a supplier down the road).
We're more than pleasantly stuffed-but can't resist dessert, which arrives with a flourish of chocolate and fresh berries.
Summer sunlight lingers till 9 o'clock this far north, less than an hour from the Canadian border-making our 40-mile après-dinner drive a little easier to digest. yes, you are still on the road to the winery, offers a clever sign, which we spy just as we turn off the two-lane county road onto gravel.
We're greeted by the idyllic lakefront grounds of China Bend Winery and B&B, our accommodations for the night. (Next time, maybe we'll boat in, as many visitors and wine tasters do.)
Hard to believe, but we're already looking forward to tomorrow's breakfast: fluffy eggs, fresh berries, homemade bread and jam, served on a patio by the vine-covered tasting room. Maybe an afternoon paddle too.
But tonight we savor the stars and the comfort of our two-room suite, swing open the doors on our private deck, tuck ourselves under country-style quilts, and let the warm breeze and crickets rock us to sleep.
From Spokane, go 65 miles north on U.S. 395 to Colville. To reach China Bend Winery, take U.S. 395 north past Kettle Falls and across the Columbia River, then turn right on Northport-Flat Creek Rd. and go 20 miles.
WHERE TO STAY
We recommend these B&Bs, off the beaten path and surrounded by natural beauty.
China Bend Winery and B&B INFO: From $125, guests-only dinner $30; 800/700-6123.
Northern Lights Lodge Rustic, luxe suites; includes an elaborate breakfast. INFO: From $180; in Marble, 28 miles from Colville; 888/732-0110.
WHAT TO DO
Colville National Forest Hiking trails galore. INFO: 509/684-7000.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area Canoe, camp, and fish along the Columbia River. INFO: 509/738-6366.
WHERE TO EAT
Lovitt Restaurant INFO: $$; closed Mon-Tue; 149 U.S. 395 S., Colville; 509/684-5444.