The air smelled sweetly of grass and hay. Inside, the arena was quiet when we walked in, with only an occasional noise from the horses lined up in stalls along two outside walls.
An arena is an unusual entrance for a restaurant, but it certainly works for the restaurant in Oso. Once you follow the stairs up and past a case packed with trophies and photos of the ranch's stars, you find a comfortable, small restaurant with a nice view of the arena. On the day we ate there, the arena was quiet except for one horse, a brown and white paint, who was enjoying some free time. He enjoyed a good roll before strolling around. The restaurant also hosts events, so the arena isn't always so silent.
The Restaurant at Rhodes River Ranch grew slowly. The owner didn't originally intend to open a restaurant. After she hired a chef to feed her crew, however, the word got out. What started as just a buffet grew to include a lunch menu, dinner and breakfast. Dinner is offered Fridays and Saturday with a small, changing menu. The week we ate there, my husband ordered the steak with bacon-wrapped shrimp ($24.99). I ordered the butternut squash($18.99). The menu always includes a vegetarian option.
Before our meals arrived, we enjoyed an appetizer of roasted mushrooms ($7.50). These were deliciously decadent. They were cooked in wine, oil and herbs. The mixture was fabulous and we enjoyed dipping the bits of bread and rolls that came with our meal in the juice. We also both enjoyed the generously sized salad of fresh spring greens, sweet peppers, tomatoes and a citrus and olive oil dressing. Everything was fresh and crisp.
The shrimp in the main course were amazing. They tasted smoky and rich. My husband earned major points for not keeping them all to himself. The steak was dry and bland by comparison. A dip in the mushroom sauce cured that, however.
My husband's meal included a rice pilaf. Usually pilaf is a rather boring dish not worth much notice. This, however, used brown rice and bits of fresh vegetable for a great taste and texture. More pilafs should be like this.
My butternut squash was rich and expertly cooked. It was soft and almost creamy on the inside pleasantly crisp on the outside. The summer squash that came with my meal included a nice citrus sauce and it went well with the rich butternut squash. I found the peppers a bit too oily, though. A twice-baked potato also came with my meal, and it was creamy inside and nicely crisped on the outside.
To finish off our meal, we had a hard time deciding among the dessert choices. We finally settled on the pear cake, which was a good choice. The spiced cake had huge chunks of pear, with a rich caramel sauce drizzled over the top. I think I'd drive back to Oso just for that.
Next time, I'll time our meal for an evening when the ranch has an event. I'd enjoy watching riders and horses make the most of the fabulous arena. The ranch would also be a nice place to swing by for lunch before or after enjoying nearby hiking. Just don't blame me if your meal gives you a sudden desire to start riding lessons.
The Restaurant at Rhodes River Ranch
22016 Entsminger Road, Arlington; www.rhodesriverranch.com; 360-474-8313.
Specialty: Ranch cooking.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call for dinner reservations, which start at 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Alcohol: Beer and wine.
Vegetarian: Some options.
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