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Albacore tartare tossed in a truffle soy vinaigrette with a bit of radish, jalapeno,and micro cress, served with Loft's house potato chips. Volim photo

Loft ideal for upscale date nights

Loft Brasserie & Bar, tucked away between several other restaurants along Calle Guanajuato behind the Ashland Plaza, has been an Ashland staple since its opening 10 years ago, but somehow my wife, Danielle, and I still hadn’t been to it after moving here four years ago.

While the restaurant’s main dining room serves a pricier lineup of “classic Old World cuisine, Pacific Northwest style,” as Loft’s website describes it, the lounge boasts a combination of more affordable bar food and some of the higher-end dishes from the main venue.

The food is enough to beckon almost any diner, but, like many of the restaurants lining Ashland Creek, it may be the romantic ambiance that you’re really looking for. The lounge and the main dining room share the same patio, but lounge patrons may be a little jealous of the slightly more inviting outdoor area offered by the main restaurant with its umbrella-covered tables bordered by delicate floral arrangements. The restaurant turns on the firepit after the sun goes down. The lounge has a distinctly bar-like feel, where young people might head for a few drinks and a greater interest in conversation than d├ęcor.

Regardless of which section one chooses, the menu established by Chef Jeremy Vidalo will please. To get a varied taste of the flavors offered at the lounge, we ordered the Albacore Tuna Tartare ($17), Buttermilk-Fried Calamari ($14), Salad Lyonnaise ($12) and Wagyu Airloin Au Poivre ($28).

The Albacore Tartare was tossed in a truffle soy vinaigrette with a bit of radish, jalapeno and micro cress, with house potato chips on the side. The chips seemed to be there to add salt to the dish’s composition, but the tuna and vegetables offered a subtler flavor. We both hoped for more of a jalapeno kick but had no problem finishing the plate.

The calamari was a classic fried dish elevated for lounge diners with mustard aioli. The green beans and lemon were also fried, a fun take on a twist of lemon over a plate of fried squid.

Danielle and I were enticed by the soft poached egg of the Salad Lyonnaise but agreed that the warm smoked bacon vinaigrette was the star of the dish. Because the flavor was infused directly into the dressing meant that every bite of frisee lettuce had a savory taste, even if you didn’t catch a piece of bacon.

Loft split our steak dish into two plates so there was no fighting over the peppercorn-crusted top sirloin, though we were charged for the extra plate. Nevertheless, this take on the classic French pepper steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and coated in watercress, maitake mushrooms and brandy cream sauce.

The supple tenderness of the dish may have been due in part to the selection of the Japanese breed of Wagyu cattle, with its high percentage of unsaturated fat — potentially demonstrating that you can teach an old dish new tricks through ingredient selection alone. When there were no more bites of tender beef left, the truffled french fries mimicked the flavor perfectly, giving us an excuse to eat the whole plate.

All of our dishes were $2 off, thanks to a 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour, bringing the bill’s grand total, including drinks, to about $90.

Loft’s lounge is more of an ideal location for upscale date nights than somewhere Friday night revelers go to get drunk after work. Fortunately for us, we were looking for just such a date night and were treated to one.

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