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rch and mh try some Oregon wine …

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rch and mh say: After spending a few days crisscrossing the state searching for the best breweries in Oregon, we settled into the Willamette Valley for two days of wine tasting. While we went to several awesome places, here were a few of our favorites.

Alexana Winery: We walked in here right as they opened on a Friday morning. Here is a picture from the back of the tasting room.

The people at Alexana were ridiculously nice. rch commented on how she liked the t-shirt the main guy helping us was wearing (he hadn’t yet changed into “work” clothes for the day). He went to change and then literally gave her the t-shirt off of his back. Ok, that way I wrote that sounds creepy, but it really wasn’t. It was a good example of how nice people were the whole time. The Alexana Winery folks also proved extremely helpful at recommending other places to go do tastings and teaching us about the wines they make.

Oh yeah, we also tasted some wine. We tried a Pinot Gris and Rose that were both very summery, then a few delicious Pinots. RCH’s favorite was the ’09 Alexana Shea Pinot, which was actually a wine that their winemaker had made with grapes from another vineyard (apparently a couple dozen wineries all take the Shea grapes and use them as a canvas to create all different wines, which is pretty cool). Notes of cherry, earthy, but a little tart. The vineyard said it was an example of an Oregon Pinot that did not need to be consumed immediately. We liked their wines a lot. If we did not live in the state of Pennsylvania, with its archaic and absurd alcohol laws, we would have considered joining their club. As it was, we settled for petting their winery housecat and buying a bottle.

WinderLea: After leaving Alexana, our next stop was down the road at WinderLea, a small, boutique winery that several people had recommended we stop by (we had even run into their marketing person the night before at dinner). Here is a shot of their tasting room. The whole vibe at the place is more “modern” than traditional vineyards.

This was arguably our most “fun” tasting. The two guys running the show, so to speak, were very personable. We talked all about how they write tasting notes for the wines and about the industry in general. It turned out that one of the guys there knew a girl that RCH had gone to camp with when she was 8 years old, and even though RCH only remembered the first name and hometown of this girl, the guy immediately guessed the right name on the first try. This reinforced my belief that apparently everyone in Oregon knows everyone else. They also had some tasty wine.  RCH does not even really like Chardonnay, but she said their  ’09 Chardonnay was the best she has ever had. The ‘09 Ana Vineyard Pinot was also tasty. It was a bit earthy, with cherry notes. Our favorite was the ‘09 WinderLea Vineyard Pinot Noir. RCH described it as black fruit, not too acid, plum, baking spices (personally, I think she might be making up some of those terms).

J. Christopher: Our last stop on our whole trip was a winery called J. Christopher. It is a very small winery that many people had recommended. The person we met at WillaKenzie the day before had set us up with an appointment there. J. Christopher doesn’t even have a tasting room yet, which meant we got to do a tasting down in the barrel storage room, which is partially built underneath a hill. That was really cool. Here is a picture of the area.

We enjoyed the wines there, but not as much as at Alexana or WinderLea. Of course, by the time we got there, it was like our 10th winery in two days and our taste buds might have been a bit tapped out. We did really enjoy their ’10 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, and got a bottle, but it didn’t quite measure up to some of our other favorites. After J. Christopher, we headed out and went back at our bed & breakfast with our spoils from the day, a few nice bottles of wine

But our day was not over yet. We left soon after for a fantastic dinner that will be the subject of our last post. . . . . .

PS We covered some of our favorites above, but for anyone who’s wondering, here are the other wineries we visited:

  • Domaine Drouhin – A really cool experience, where we got a full tour and a tasting comparing Oregon wines and French wines
  • Tyrus Evans Tasting Room – A place to taste Ken Wright’s pinot noirs. Delicious, but a little stuffy for our tastes, and with some pretty draconian buying rules.
  • Carlton Winemakers’ Studio – A fun stop, where many winemakers share space in a collective operation. Great people, enjoyable tasting, bought a bottle that tasted just like a French Rhone wine (a favorite style of mh)
  • Duck Pond – Really just a pit stop where we saw a sign and pulled over. Fun place to stop, with several different tasting menus and a funny eccentric lady who carried us wine as we browsed the store, but the wine was nothing to write home about.
  • Elk Cove – One of the big dogs on the Oregon scene. We weren’t planning to stop, but it was recommended by several employees of other wineries. Beautiful (but remote) location, good wine.
  • WillaKenzie – Recommended by a wine-loving friend. Very friendly employee, some tasty wines. Definitely worth a spot (and also got some good recommendations here).

Written by afterdinnersneeze

30 June 2012 at 9:06pm

going Rogue

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rch and mh say:  The next day of the trip was the one that mh was looking forward to the most – the brewery that inspired the whole trip – and it did not disappoint. First it was another early morning and another long drive as we drove from Eugene out to the Oregon coast, and then up the coast to Newport, OR. For those of you that don’t know, Newport is an Oregon version of the kind of seaside towns that people generally associate with Maine on the east coast. Small, extremely focused on fishing/seafood/marine-related things, and a cross between touristy and all about the locals who actually live there the whole year.

Anyways, on to the beer. Newport, OR is the world headquarters of Rogue Brewing. Rogue was the 25th largest craft brewery in America in 2011, but I suspect most people would have guessed they were higher. That’s because you can find Rogue beers on tap and in stores in all 50 glorious states of the union. Deschutes, in contrast, is only on tap in 18 states, but is the fifth-largest craft brewer. Different strategies, I guess. Business details aside, Rogue is a heavy hitter in the craft beer world. We arrived at their headquarters in the early afternoon for tastings, some food, and a tour.

Like Deschutes in Bend, Rogue has a bar in “downtown” Newport and then the brewery itself, as well as several brewpubs in other places in Oregon.  Rogue’s most famous beer is its “Dead Guy Ale”. mh bought it for the first time in college just because of the name and the picture on the bottle! Below is a picture of the logo from the upstairs bar at the brewery.

Dead Guy Ale is one tasty beer. It is not a pale ale or an IPA (two very popular styles right now). In the words of Rogue Brewing, Dead Guy Ale is “In the style of a German Maibock”. It is amber colored, but not too heavy or too hoppy.

One of the first things we learned upon arriving was that Rogue was not named after its original location – in the Rogue River Valley – but because the brewmaster, John Maier, wanted to literally be a bit different than the completion, a bit “Rogue.” Maier is a big guy in the beer world; a former home-brewer who made the transition to brewing on a much, much larger scale. He also comes up frequently when talking to people at Rogue – it is clear that you see his “vision” in all of the beers they make, and the employees are very proud of his influence.

You walk in and through the actual brewery to get to a merchandising room and a set of stairs to take you to the bar. There, they have just about every Rogue beer on tap. And there are a lot of them:

They also have Rogue’s newer line of spirits. That’s right, Rogue now makes gin, whiskey, and rum. More on those in a bit. One upside – when you walk in, the bartender immediately pours you 3 oz of the “special” beer of the day. In this case it was the Dad’s Little Helper Black IPA. It was hoppy but also a bit malty and creamier than a normal IPA. It was a nice way to start our visit!

We started out with tasters, inexpensive small pours of four Rogue beers. We each got four different ones, giving us a chance to taste eight of them. Quick quiz: can you tell which of these pictures came from a traditional digital camera and which came from the camera on a Droid Razr Maxx (mh is very jealous of rch’s new cellphone, in case you couldn’t tell)? Favorite beers in the tasting included the Chatoe Rogue Single Malt Ale (similar concept to a single malt scotch or single vineyard wine – Rogue is now growing their own organic hops), the Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red, and the Brutal IPA. The Brutal IPA actually is not that brutal – when it was released it was seen as extremely hoppy, but after the explosion of super-hoppy IPA’s over the last decade, it now seems a lot smoother.

We also got some food, specifically some delicious “Irish Nachos”. Think perfectly cooked potato wedges instead of chips and you’ve got the idea. Excellent way to soak up some beer before the tour.

After officially joining Rogue Nation (25% off the t-shirt that mch purchased), we headed down the road to the Rogue Distillery. Rogue has been producing spirits for a few years, but the distillery just opened to the public recently. Things are going well so they are expanding. Here are pictures of their current building (pictures shows the *entire* distilling operation – this is an extremely intimate environment that, combined with the friendliness of the distiller, made for a great “tour” and discussion) and the new building they are moving production into.

We did other things in Newport as well. We went down to Agate Beach to see the large piece of wreckage from the Japanese tsunami washed up on American shores, we had a delicious seafood dinner at Shark’s (the Cioppino, in particular, was great – as advertised), we tried the clam chowder at Mo’s Original Restaurant (good but I’m still going with the Boston variety as the best!), and we finished our evening at the Rogue Ales Public House on Bay Street. But this trip was pretty much about the Rogue Brewing Company. And we were not disappointed. Great beers and a great visit.

From Monday to Wednesday we drove from Medford to Klamath Falls to Bend to Eugene to Newport. We traveled about 450 miles (or about the distance from Boston to DC), got to see old friends, we tried a lot of great beer. Mission accomplished – so far.

Thursday morning, we woke up and drove to the Willamette Valley for two days of touring wineries and drinking lots of Oregon Pinot Noir (t jumps in: Wine!  Did someone say wine!?). Our winery tours on Thursday and Friday will be the subject of our next post, before we wrap it up with a description of a tremendous dinner we had at Paulée, a fantastic new restaurant in the heart of Oregon wine country.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 June 2012 at 11:11pm

Beer, beer, and more beer (and driving 500 miles in a day)

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rch and mh say: After a fun night in Klamath Falls with friends and family, we headed up OR-97 to Bend, OR. If you look at a map, Bend seems pretty out of the way, but the place was impressive, especially for a fan of good beer. The official town visitor center features a Beer Map where you can attempt to get your “passport” stamped at each of the dozen or more breweries on Bend’s “Ale Trail.” This is now a big tourist destination, and Bend has recently moved into first place in Oregon for breweries per capita. It’s become a pretty cute, yuppified little town, something like Boulder Colorado (with similarly beautiful scenery), and we were happy to be able to check it out. Since we only had a few hours in Bend, we were limited to trying just two. First, we went to a newcomer on the Bend beer scene, Good Life Brewing Company.

 It smelled delicious in there, but we were there just to drink, not to eat. So we put the scent of good food behind us and each ordered a beer. rch got the Descender IPA while MCH got the Mountain Rescue Dry Hopped Pale Ale. The Mountain Rescue had a hoppy finish due to the dry hopping process, but was clean and a bit milder than the IPA. The Descender IPA was an IPA in all its glory – bold and hoppy, but not bitter.

We soon departed Good Life, however, to head to the anchor of the Bend brewing scene, and the biggest brewery in all of Oregon, Deschutes Brewery. Deschutes is a heavy hitter in the beer world. They are the fifth largest craft brewer in the United States, according to data from 2011 (huge points if you can name the other four without looking them up. Hint: Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) is #1). They have also been around since 1988, making them practically ancient compared to many of the microbrews around these days. Here is a shot of some of their fermentation tanks.

Deschutes has a downtown pub in Bend (they also have pubs in Portland and elsewhere), as well as their actual brewery. We headed to the brewery for a tour, meeting up with rch’s friend who lives in Bend. What we found was a very professional operation. The tour was conducted by personnel who seemed tasked for that purpose – rather than a brewer or bartender. Also, unlike the other brewery tours we will discuss in future posts, the tour took place completely on a railed-in catwalk overlooking the actual brewing operation. That being said, it was an interesting and educational tour. The tour guide was knowledgeable and gave us a great overview of the beer-making process. rch’s favorite part was when they passed out whole hop flowers to each person for us to break apart and taste. It turns out that the crystallized sap in the hop flower is what gives the signature hoppy taste to all of our favorite beers, though I confess that, tasted alone, it gives a bit of Bitter Beer Face. Very cool element to the tour, though. The other interesting note on the tour was their story about how one of their new brewing tanks, the Lauter Tun, was so big that it wouldn’t fit down the highway when they were shipping it in to Bend. Apparently they actually worked with the state police to shut down a whole section of Highway 97 for two nights to get the tank to the brewery. Wonder if the police got paid in beer…

We even got to see the bottling operation in action, as you can see below.


The Deschutes Brewery gives each person over 21 four generous samples of different Deschutes beer (we got to call which beers)! So, what about the beer itself?

The Twilight Summer Ale was their seasonal. We described it as a slightly hoppier Sam Adams Summer Ale. While mh was a big fan, it had the same slightly sour taste that rch does not love in Sam Summer. The Green Lakes Organic Amber was delicious and clocked in at a low ABV – only 5.2%. It had a clean flavor, pretty mild overall. The Chainbreaker White IPA was one of the more interesting beers we tasted the entire trip. It was a white beer, blonde and unfiltered, something people tend to associate with lighter or fruitier beers, but it was also an IPA. Unexpected and great. The Mirror Pond was only slightly hoppy and a generally smooth pale ale.

Of course, the Deschutes flagship beer is the Black Butte Porter, the best-selling porter in the country. Very few breweries have such a dark and complex beer as their flagship, which is one of the things that put Deschutes on the map. It is great. It has a chocolate smell and a slightly bitter taste. After the tour, we only had minutes to spare before departing Bend, so we headed downtown with Kaeleen to the Deschutes Pub for one more beer.

We drank more tasty Deschutes beer here, but with a twist. We had a large, soft pretzel with Deschutes’ stone-ground mustard. It was delicious. That mustard is outstanding. Just wow. The pretzel was also interesting – a bit more like multigrain and “breadier” than many pretzels. It was a great snack to end our brief tour of Bend.

From Bend, we set off another 130 miles across the state to Eugene, OR. Eugene is not just home of the Oregon Ducks – it also features its own set of craft brewers. The largest of the Eugene-based microbrews is the Ninkasi Brewing Company. Founded in 2006, Ninkasi is rapidly becoming one of the largest beer producers in Oregon, if not the country. They also have a well-run marketing machine. Note how everything there is “branded” with the Ninkasi label (it was also on every glass, in giant mosaic on the floor, on the outdoor tables, on the doors and windows, etc.).


We met up with some good friends who recently moved from Philadelphia to Eugene and sampled some of their beers. mh had a lighter beer – the Spring Reign Ale. It is their seasonal beer and it was light and crisp. Very nice for drinking outside on a patio – which we were doing! rch had the “Total Domination” IPA. How can you go wrong with a name like that? She thought it was great, a little milder than the name sounds but tasty. We carried our beers along on the tour, and she is sure that added a little something to the flavor.

The tour itself was excellent. Ninkasi is a much smaller operation than Deschutes, so in some ways it was more intimate tour. For a fun depiction, note the slide the Ninkasi folks use to move ingredients around the warehouse!


Ninkasi was also fun because it was filled with the perfect set of Eugene people, almost like something out of Portlandia. There were plenty of pairs of hipster glasses, some tie-dye, and some dreads. And everyone was nice.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 June 2012 at 6:50pm

Sweet Home Southern Oregon

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t says:  Right before we left for Oregon, we met up with rch and mh at cm’s Birthday party … only to find that rch and mh were headed to Oregon, too!  We made a deal: we would tell them them about our our Willamette Valley discoveries, and they’d have to let us know how it went.  And we did!  And they did!  And so here it begins – welcome to first-time contributors rch and mh!

rch and mh say:

Our beer, food, and wine tour of Oregon began in Medford, OR, where we spent a few days with family friends. During that time, we tasted our friend’s delicious homebrew beer. His double IPA was outstanding. One night, we dropped their kids off for the evening and drove to Ashland, home of Oregon’s world-renowned Shakespeare Festival. For our purposes, however, what mattered is that Ashland is the home of the Standing Stone Brewing Company. Like many, many of the places we visited over the next week, Standing Stone has a pretty impressive commitment to local ingredients and sustainability, and they just received an award for being one of the most sustainable businesses in the region.

Having four people there gave us the opportunity to sample more of their food and drinks. To start, we had a sampler to try out some beers. Then we ordered beers – and this place offers something a bit unusual; they had pints for $5 but half-pints for $3 each. Since we were there in part to try the beer, a few of us got half-pints. The “I heart Oregon ale” was probably the favorite of the table. It featured a very balanced flavor profile and had all local ingredients. Like many pale ales it was mildly bitter and slightly hoppy. The amber ale was also terrific. It featured a slightly more malty flavor. Note in the picture below how the IPAs were quite dark and hoppy. Also tasty.


While many micro-brews are mostly just about the beer, the food at Standing Stone was also solid. rch and a friend split a chicken, garlic, & cream sauce pizza while mh and a friend both got burgers. The pizza was good, not great, but the burgers were excellent. Great garlic fries, though maybe a touch too garlicky. We also had some excellent sweet potato fries, good Brussels sprouts, and one other appetizer that neither of us can remember.  Great experience and it was not surprising that it was pretty packed throughout the evening when we were there. Only downside, from the perspective of a Celtics fan following Game 5 against the Heat – no TVs.

We then traveled across OR-140E about 80 miles or so to Klamath Falls. While we did not have much time in Klamath Falls, we did get to stop at the The Creamery/KIamath Basin Brewing Company (located on the site of an old creamery – note the sign below).


The Creamery is a relatively new micro-brewer in the heart of Klamath Falls, OR (rch’s hometown). She remembers when it was an actual creamery, complete with giant milk carton standing on the roof next to the cow, but hadn’t been back since they remodeled. We arrived there with very little time to spare – only about 45 minutes between events. It did not disappoint. rch ordered a Crystal Springs IPA. It was tasty – not too hoppy but great flavor, and again made with mostly local ingredients. mh ordered the sampler, which was inexpensive and included eight generous pours of KBBC beers. Great value and delicious beers. The Crater Lake Amber Ale, the “flagship” beer of the KBBC was especially good. The bar also had solid dark beers like the vanilla porter and chocolate-smelling stout. We did not get to sample the food, but we were generally impressed. The bar had several large TVs and advertised that they have NFL Sunday Ticket, a huge plus during the football season. Below is a picture of the “tasting”.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 June 2012 at 6:49pm

The Oregon Trail: Eateries (cont’d)

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t says:  And to complete the whirlwind recap of Oregon dining, here we go …

Wine Country Day 3 – Dinner: Thistle.  Now, this restaurant is quite a controversial topic in wine country.  Our BnB proprietors very clearly didn’t like the place – the chef had a reputation of being “Mr. Grumpy-pants”, and the format of the restaurant is a little too “hip”/”cool” for Oregon.  For example, when we walked in, you’re told by the hostess/waitress/server that the menu is on the board and that that’s the only place it’s written (Little Fish has a very similar tactic).  On one hand, the menu seemed pretty good:

Thistle’s menu

But on the other hand, you can’t see the menu from every seat in the restaurant (actually, I’d say that less than half the seats in the restaurant are even in the same room as the menu!) … and this is why their execution of the chalkboard menu is ultimately a fail!  As the evening progressed, a crowd of people started to build, as patrons had to stand in the room we were eating in (i.e. I picked a seat right underneath the menu so as not to have to rely on memory), make up their minds, memorize their choices, and then return to their seats.

Continuing with Thistle weirdness …
So I got up to wash my hands before eating.  I apparently looked lost (I was), so the bartender gave me directions … but then he warned me … “Yeah, the lights don’t work in there – don’t worry – there’s candles.”  I thought, “that’s weird”.  And then I walked in:

bathroom by candlelight

So then I knew it was weird.  I mean this has to be some kind of violation.  You can’t see it in the above picture, but that bar next to the toilet that people should rely on for balance in case they’re elderly or handicapped (or happen to fall in because someone left the seat up) – there’s candles on that, too.  I’m all for ambience – trust me – but I just don’t see how anyone needs to be put in a romantic mood to void/evacuate/wash.  Kinda weird …

On to the food – it wasn’t bad!  Actually – it was pretty good – technically the best that we had in Willamette Valley.  Fish cookery was top notch.  Gnocchi were soft and pillowy.  Good stuff.  g was especially happy because for all of the negative comments we had read about the chef, we found that his food was tasty.  We did feel, however, that the chef might be a little “green”.  It seems like he has a lot of ideas (i.e. ingredients) that he desperately wants to put on each and every plate without putting enough thought into how the diner would approach them.  As a result, I found myself hunting/dissecting with my fork and knife to ensure that every bite had at least some of each of the components, as I imagined that’s how chef imagined they’d go together.  A prime example was the fish dish:

there’s just too many (at least 7) components! … (but each one is cooked VERY nicely)

I think my favorite of the evening was:

simple appetizer = potato + bacon + kale + egg + mustard

We would consider going back to Thistle again, but there are other places in Wine Country that we’d try first.  Cuvee, Recipe, and The Painted Lady come to mind immediately (oh, and the restaurant in the Allison and the new one in the Inn at Red Hills).

Oregon Day 4:  Mixing it up …

So we decided to visit Columbia River Gorge before settling in Portland.  It’s true that you kind of pass right by Portland to get to the Gorge from Wine Country, however, we felt that we just needed to visit more of Oregon.  It was great!  The views were spectacular, and had g and I been more “into” water sports and/or hiking, I’m sure we could have spent even more time there.  For us, we were content with the pretty surroundings and the waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls is so huge we couldn’t fit more than half of it in any one picture …

Additionally, there are lots of great spots to picnic.  We stopped at a Target to pick up a corkscrew and acrylic tumbler so that we could drink some rose at the Gorge – check it:

lemon zest chevre (Abbey Road Farms) + baguette (Red Hills Market) + Domaine Drouhin rose (in a $2 Target tumbler)

This lunch was AWESOME.

After arriving and getting situated in Portland (and seeing some sights – like Powell’s City of Books), g and I prepared for our first [and only] dinner in Portland: Le Pigeon.

We had reservations to eat at 7:30 but were starving by 5:30.  So we “chanced it” and just showed up, hoping to nail one of the chef’s counter seats that are available to walk-ins only (only 10 or so seats available, first-come-first-served).  We were in luck – we were the last two that fit!  Whoopie!

Ok – let’s slow things down now – Le Pigeon deserves the blow-by-blow …

t’s app: grilled lamb tongue “salad”

So, the lamb tongue wasn’t presented in exactly the way I thought.  I thought that a hunk of tongue was going to be cooked slow and then grilled at the last second.  Instead, this was fine slices of meat mixed with other interesting salad-like ingredients.  Ultimately everything did taste great, but I think people who go ga-ga for this dish are just falling for the hype of “eating tongue”, to which I am no stranger (and this didn’t taste particularly lamby, either).  And, unfortunately, it paled in comparison to g’s app …

g’s app: rabbit pot pie (topped with hot mustard ice cream) + rabbit heart “salad”

Holycrapballsthiswasamazing.  First off, That pot pie totally killed it.  As much as I raved about Alla Spina’s Pig Pot Pie, this is an order of magnitude better.  Seriously.  The succulent rabbit meat (and plenty of it), the ice cream (g loves hot mustard), and I even think there was a little bit of foie hiding in there … heaven.  And then there was that mix of rabbit heart and mustard and something sweet/fruity-tasting (?tamarind?) and unidentifiable other “stuff”.  And then it happened: I was brought to a pause – you know – one of those times when you want to just close your eyes and let your brain and mouth savor every flavor of the symphony before you.  It was the best dish I had had in a long time.  And the surprise/novelty of it reminded me a bit of the old Talula’s Table Bryan Sikora (not to be confused with the new Sikora).  I did not see that one coming … Needless to say, g won Battle Appetizer (lamb tongue never stood a chance).

For mains, I went for the hunk of meat:

t’s main: boeuf bourgignon

I thought that I had this one all locked up.  The meat was fall-apart tender and deeply penetrated with the uber-oomphy braising liquid.  The onions and potatoes were so deeply flavored that they barely resembled their pre-cooked form.  And yes, even the carrots were scrumptious.  It was so classically done and so perfectly executed that team t was going to steamroll team g for sure … or so I thought …

g’s main: chicken … kinda

Ok … so I labeled the above photo “chicken”.  And yes, it was a plate that featured chicken.  But don’t be fooled.  This was no ordinary chicken.  This chicken was possessed by the devil … because clearly only Beezlebub would think of lobster-ifying chicken.  That’s right – lobster chicken.  Now, g confesses that she ordered it because she wanted me to have the beef (I “called it” first) – she only went for the chicken because I had told her that some Yelpers said it was delicious.  They. were. not. lying.  You put a piece of white chicken (stuffed with lobster) in your mouth and it’s so vividly lobster that you swear it was a piece of lobster.  And then, as you bite down, you get the firmness of chicken which while weird at first is actually kind of a well-matched texture for the power of the lobster.  Underneath, there’s dark meat mixed with lobster pieces and that ridiculous sauce (and peas … g loves peas).  Now, g admits that this technically was not the “best” chicken she ever had in terms of chicken cookery (i.e. the chicken alone wasn’t particularly tender or particularly juicy – but done well enough), but she feels that it’s probably a contender for the best “chicken dish” she’s ever had when it comes to flavor – and I’m totally with her.  This chicken – this silly bird that was screwed around with to taste like lobster – was out of control.  As good as my beef was (and as impressive as the picture of the beef was) and as confident I was that “cow beats chicken” is as true/fact/dogma as “rock beats scissors”, g’s chicken, with the power of lobster, slayed my cow.  Damnit.  I was 0-2 this meal (and she let me have first pick!)  On to desserts to see if I could pick up at least 1 victory to restore team morale …

t’s dessert: creme brulee and malt pot de creme

My dessert wasn’t very fussy.  I was feeling kind of full, so I wanted some lighter flavors that went down smoothly.  And, after watching chef torch off a creme brulee (after all, we did have prime seats), I decided that that’s what I wanted.  And indeed everything was delicious!  The textures, temperatures, and flavors were all spot on …

but g showed me no mercy …

g’s dessert: “carrot cake”

I was actually surprised g ordered dessert.  Usually, she foregoes dessert and takes a bite of mine.  But not this day.  This day, she annihilated me 3-0.  Okay.  Look at that carrot cake.  That is clearly NOT a “carrot cake” as the menu suggested.  It was like bringing a gun to a knife-fight.  Forget “gun” – try rocket launcher.  First off, let’s tackle the obvious component: the carrot cake.  This carrot cake was crazy.  Now, I’ve had some darn good carrot cakes in the past (shout-out to w!), but this was super moist and super soft, but somehow not “spongy”, and it boasted carrot and spice flavors, but no actual carrot particles were visible.  The cream cheese icing wasn’t over-bearingly sweet or cream-cheesy, with just the right amount of viscosity.  I’m pretty sure those nuts were toasted because there’s no way they could have had the flavors they had otherwise.  The chamomile ice cream – ok – that was the one thing on the dish that was “normal” – a nice mild flavor to provide some background for the other fireworks.  Now let’s talk about the ridiculous …  Those ribbon thingees are shavings of yellow, orange, and purple carrot that had been treated in such a manner that they were essentially like those Listerine pocket strips … except that they tasted of carrot.  Those yellow raisins were rehydrated in Lord-knows-what, but had this mix of sweetness and a little bit of sour/tart punch.  And then there’s that little cube of orange … carrot, right?  WRONG.  That was some sort of gelatin substance that was cut into cubes (think textured like panna cotta) so it would look like carrot, but have this wonderful cross of creamy and carroty and sweet.  Someone had a lot of fun crafting this dessert … and we had even more fun eating it.

As you can see, Le Pigeon serves some wonderful food.  At “baseline” (i.e. everything I ordered), the food is “delicious” and superbly executed.  But at the extreme (i.e. everything g ordered), it’s whimsical and surprising (and delicious and superbly executed).  g wants to do an FTC trip to Oregon so that we can do up the wineries and go to Le Pigeon.  Who knows – maybe after reading this post, the usual suspects will begin thinking about it …  Whadya say – International Pinot Noir Celebration in July 2013?

Day 5 – Finishing off Portland …

Yes … this has been a very long post.  But give me just a few more pictures to wrap up our trip (rapid fire – I promise!):

I started off the day by bringing some Voodoo Donuts back to the hotel … yea … I know it’s a tourist trap

wait for it …

raspberry jelly, lemon cruller, buttermilk, and Memphis Mafia (i.e. chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, all on fried fritter dough)

Voodoo was good, but I think their “shtick” is just doing “over-the-top” donuts (they have a lot more like the Memphis Mafia pictured above).  I kind of prefer FedNuts super-flavor-packed donuts to these, but I will say that Voodoo has a better actual “donut matter” (Fednuts are a little too cakey for me).

We did Bunk Sandwiches takeout for lunch – they’ve received a ton of accolades and have been on DDD – I know it’s a tourist trap, too …

meatball sandwich – those were some darn solid meatballs and the sauce was actually pretty good (with some spice) … but I know that g’s meatballs could wreck Bunk’s … just sayin …

chicken salad – good components around the chicken salad, but the salad itself was only “meh” – Rotisseur might be able to take ’em …

And that’s it!

We boarded a plane with our wine, prayed that we (and the wine) would arrive safely in PHL, and voila!  Here we are!

Overall, it was a fantastic trip – g was glad she did it! (Her original attitude was “Oregon?  Who goes to Oregon for vacation?”).  To those who’ve “done” California, Oregon is a great trip with great wines and a slower/nicer attitude.  The food might not be as polished/famous as Napa’s, but it’s also a helluvalot cheaper (the wines are, too!).  Portland is an interesting city and worth a visit (lots of cool tattoos), but we can’t justify any more than 2 days (g says:  When we go back to Oregon, we’re only going to stay in Portland for the food – no need for me to see anything else.) – we probably would have spent more time in the Gorge had we had the time.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 May 2012 at 12:48am

The Oregon Trail: Eateries

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t says:  And now, let’s roll the picture reel – it’s time to see some Oregon food.

Wine Country Day 1 – Lunch:  Red Hills Market.  This was a cute little market that sold everything from meats, breads, and cheeses to wines, coffees, and touristy nick-knacks.  They do some pretty good desserts, including the best macaroon I’ve ever had (I didn’t take a picture of it because by the time I thought to do so, I had already consumed the entire macaroon).  It’s the perfect place for a first bite after a tired journey or to pick up some picnic necessities.  Oh – I forgot to mention the delicious artisanal sandwiches:

red hills market roast beef

Wine Country Day 1 – Dinner:  <Picnic> Famous 3rd Street Pizza.  We didn’t take a pic of the place or the pizza because it was pretty standard fare – nothing special.  We would have done something awesomer, but Mondays in Oregon Wine Country are tough – it’s REALLY hard to find open restaurants (either that or we just suck at looking for them).  We took a pizza back to Abbey Road Farms BnB and enjoyed the view over a slice of pie.  Ahhhhhh, heaven.

Wine Country Day 2 – Lunch: The Horse Radish.  Located in downtown Carlton (this is a joke), this is a great little sandwich-centric place for lunch.  Because it was called “the Horse Radish”, g insisted that we order a dish containing the condiment … meaning that we again had roast beef:

not as “sexy” as Red Hills Market, but more filling (only half is pictured above)

Oregon cheese trio and some fig jam

Overall, the food was satisfactory and the price was right.  Not bad!

Wine Country Day 2 – Dinner: We had another outdoor picnic, but this time, we’re going to play a game where you guess what we ate after a long day of wine tasting …

The large box had a salad (yawn), while the other components of super-awesome outdoor meal are …

… Oregon Dungeness crab lasagna …

… papperdelle bolognese …

… cupcakes (peanut butter and chocolate, red velvet, raspberry filled, and caramel filled) …

… and a beautiful view!

As you could probably guess from my strong words in the last post, the wine was the best part of this meal.  It was just a wonderful outdoor drinking wine.  The food was pretty good, but we have to admit that for the hype that Nick’s Italian Cafe gets, you’d think that this was going to be the best Italian food ever.  It wasn’t.  (g suggests:  It wasn’t bad, but maybe they just don’t have a lot of great Italian places around here to compare it to.)  I agree – Osteria would reduce the long-time “establishment” of Nick’s to a nothing more than a faded memory within a single summer.  The cupcakes a similar story – they weren’t bad, but it’s similar to any old cupcakery you can find in Philly.

Wine Country Day 3 – Lunch:  Dundee Bistro.  This place rocks.  Seriously.  The food is well-prepared and often contains little tidbits of novelty to wake you up from a wine-tasting-induced-siesta.  The by-the-glass wine list is impressive.  The hipster waiters are nice enough, so that wasn’t a problem.  I’d say that if you want a sit-down lunch, this place is a no-brainer.

pasta carbonara … but the pasta is kinda like ramen noodles …

French Fries (truffled) + golden beet salad with curried apples

Wine Country Day 3 – Dinner … to be continued …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 May 2012 at 1:35am

The Oregon Trail: Wine

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t says:  So, we already went through some of our trip, but now we get down to the wine … after all – the whole point of the trip was to take on Oregon Wine Country (or at least, the Willamette Valley).  We didn’t take a ton of pictures, but we’ll mention who had great views, great wines, etc. (and I promise pictures on our next post about FOOD).  But let me warn you right now: this post is going to be INCREDIBLY boring for those with no interest in wine.  But if you’re a “wino”, then maybe you might make it through without falling asleep (maybe).  Furthermore, if you’re planning a trip to OR, then this might be a helpful post, as we wish someone would have told us all of this beforehand.  At the very least, g and I can look back on this post and remember which places to revisit and which places to avoid on our next OR trip …

Day 1:

Argyle Tasting Room:  Right across the street from where we lunched (Red Hills Market – more coming soon), Argyle is known for producing some of Oregon’s best bubblies.  Because of this, we decided to make Argyle our first OR tasting as it would be a fun way to celebrate being in Oregon.  So how was it?  “Meh” is probably most accurate.  g, the bubbly expert of the two of us, felt that the sparkling wines in her flight were “ok”, but not particularly spectacular – kind of a letdown if these were Oregon’s best bubblies.  I tackled Argyle’s pinot noir offerings and found that although potable, they, too, were mediocre at best.  Oh well, at least its location didn’t really make us go out of our way to get to it.  Grade: C

Ponzi Wine Bar:  We did NOT go to this wine bar, however, it’s right across from Red Hills Market and actually connected to Dundee Bistro, so it would have been even closer than the Argyle Tasting Room (e.g. we walked to the Argyle Tasting room, we could have crawled to Ponzi’s using only the strength of our eyelids).  Ponzi’s wine bar wouldn’t have had bubbles, and I can’t vouch for Ponzi wines, however, the bar does offer tastings of other reputable, non-Ponzi wines that we gradually become familiar with throughout our Oregon Trail – so that would have been a far better option than Argyle … just sayin’ …  Grade: ??? (likely far greater than C)

Erath Winery:  We first had Erath pinot noir off the winelist at Talula’s Garden and found it to be delicious and inexpensive (i.e. when you buy it by the bottle at a wine store).  Having been let down by Argyle, g suggested that we give Erath a try on Day 1, even though it wasn’t on our itinerary (k and cm know about my “itineraries”).  The tasting room at the winery was well-appointed, and there are some impressive views to be had.  The wines weren’t too shabby, either, as the tasting covered a variety of price-points and production levels, ranging from the sub-$20 pinot noir and pinot gris you can find in nearly any store (and pretty good for the money, too!) to above-$50 rare-beyond-the-winery options.  The most surprisingly delicious wine was a still white wine made from pinot noir grapes, which I had never tasted before (although I have since found this to be a common wine style in Lombardy and Germany).  Erath’s version had this excellent mix of stone fruit and tart apple and vegetal zip all on a creamy vanilla background – like a peculiar cross between a California Chardonnay and a German Riesling.  (g says:  It tastes like what a great bubbly would taste like … without the bubbles! … which is great so now t can have some!).  You’ll be seeing this bottle in the next post …  Ultimately, we felt that Erath was a darned good “Intro to Oregon Wines” tasting … but pass it if you’re already familiar with OR wines.  Grade: B+

Day 2:

Adelsheim:  Adelsheim’s kind of pricey.  The tour is pricey.  The wines are pricey.  However, the tour was particularly nice and rather complete from grape to cellar (it’s especially well-suited for those who’ve never seen a winery before), and the wines were pretty solid (a good way to taste multiple expressions of pinot noir).  (g interjects: “Solid”?  Stop being so critical!  They were delicious!  I would have been happy taking home 3 of the 5 we tasted!)  Ok.  Scratch “solid” – make it “good” … but that’s as far as I’m going.  Grade: B+ (“better” wines than Erath, but a higher price-tag.)

Carlton Winemakers Studio: Welcome to a wine snob’s heaven.  This place is a collection of winemakers who all use a single facility to craft their wines – so there’s a lot of “up-and-coming” pinot-making talent by people who are just getting started and don’t yet have the facilities to make their wines at their own vineyards.  Every wine-experienced person we ran into suggested we go here – so we did.  The tasting room in Carlton (so it’s just a wine bar you’re visiting, not a winery) was helmed by the “wine director” on the day we went; he had a lot of knowledge, but he also had a healthy dose of wine snobbery and was not afraid to express his opinions (g admits: He was an “acquired” taste.).  His opinions included things like:
“Your state’s liquor laws are stupid. I think they’re just plain wrong, so I ship there all the time anyways because I don’t care.”  (Whoa there spanky … don’t let the PLCB catch wind of this …)
“Yea, I said this wine was ‘pretty’, but I actually don’t like it.  Actually, I recommend that you buy that other one instead because this one is ‘so pretty’ that it’s kind of boring.  Actually, it’s my least favorite bottle on the entire list.”  (WHAT the crap?  The sad truth is that I was somehow suckered by this logic and avoided the “too pretty” wine!  WHAT?  How did that happen?  g still doesn’t understand why he even bothers to sell that wine at all.  Whatever.)
However I felt about the guy behind the counter, and even though the wines featured here are more expensive than those at Adelsheim, the Studio does a brilliant job showing how different vineyards/winemakers can take pinot into a various directions that differ so wildly from each other – it was actually very cool.  We’d go back for a tasting in a heart-beat.  Grade: B+ (would have been an A- had a nicer person been there)

Rex Hill / AtoZ Wineworks:  While Rex Hill is probably the first winery that anyone traveling to Willamette Valley from Portland will see … but it was the worst tasting we had.  The winery’s not pretty.  The wines at best are “meh” at best.  The dude behind the bar could use a shot of enthusiasm/salesmanship/showmanship/life.  Grade: D- (Why not an “F”?  Their saving grace is that it’s really close to “The Sweetest Thing” Cupcakes.  While no Kara’s, they’re pretty tasty, as you’ll see, and do a great job making up for Rex Hill’s lackluster wines.)

Tyrus Evans Tasting Room:  They offer Ken Wright pinot tastings, which is pretty bawler.  However, they only sell Ken Wright pinots by the six-pack, which is WAY expensive.  We decided against the pinot tasting because we didn’t want to be tempted by something that we could never afford.  They also offer Tyrus Evans tastings, which are non-pinot wines crafted by Ken Wright – that intrigued us so we did it.  Conclusion: Ken Wright should stick to pinots.  (g chimes in:  Actually, this is the one tasting I regret – we should have done the Ken Wright pinots just to do ’em.  Who cares if we can’t afford them – what other chance would we have had to have tasted them all?)  Other than that, there really is nothing remarkable about this location, as its just a random building in a sparsely populated town.  Do it if you’re there, but we don’t think it’s worth going out of your way for it.  Grade: C (B if you go for the Ken Wright pinots)

Day 3:

Domaine Drouhin:  If you absolutely want to do a winery tour but do NOT want to pay Adelsheim’s cost (and want a better view), then this is the place to go ($25pp).  Yes, this is one of the “big” Oregon wineries, so everyone-and-their-mother goes there … but they do a nice job!  They even let you do a comparative tasting of Oregon pinots vs. French Burgundies (you need to call ahead for the “Drouhin Experience”)!  The people are nice.  The facilities are large and spotless.  The view is impressive.  And, of course, the wines are pretty tasty, even if they are a little commonplace.  They get bonus points, however, for starting us off with a glass of rose for the tour – now THAT’s what I like to see.  I’m happy we went!  This place is good for a tour or even just for a tasting.  Grade: A- (Is it snobby of me that I’m docking them points for not having rarer or more exclusive wines?  Probably.)

Domaine Serene:  This was the biggest let-down of the Oregon trip.  The tour/tastings are NOT cheap.  And for how much people hyped the new facilities, we have to say that we weren’t impressed, as it’s clear that they cheesed it up with their beaucoup bucks instead of having true style (e.g. it’s not that Domaine Serene is “ugly” – it’s not at all – but it’s like they’re trying oh-so-hard to make you feel like you’ve been transported to some sort of grand chateau … meanwhile, for example, Quintessa in California is a far more beautiful winery with superior design/functionality).  But it didn’t stop there – for me, the biggest disappointment was the wines.  After reading so much about Domaine Serene and all of their pinot success, I expected to walk out of their with several bottles and a depleted bank account.  But no!  The wines were shockingly boring (topping out at “good” for the ’08 Evenstad) – even the ones that got rave reviews from wine critics!  Gasp!  Ultimately, I understand that Domaine Serene draws a big crowd (people fall for the marketing), however, I say that if you absolutely must go, then just show up, enjoy the view (the view is pretty – similar to Domaine Drouhin), have a tasting at the wine bar (i.e. skip the tour), mark it on your checklist as “done”, and save your money for other wineries.  Grade: D+ (B if all you’re going for is a view and tasting).

Alexana Winery:  We were told about this place by John at Abbey Road Farms; given his lifetime of wine-related experiences, we took his recommendation seriously.  The story behind the winery is interesting: an Indian cardiologist somehow accrues/spends a whole lot of money on top-notch vineyards/wineries in Oregon, California, and Argentina and then proceeds to employ some very famous winemakers to create what he believes are “the best possible wines” from his land.  I don’t know how he does it, but man, this guy seems like he spared no expense.  Now I know that this kind of strategy might turn a lot of people off, as he’s basically a very wealthy person who is enthusiastic/obsessive about wine, and not technically a farmer/oenologist, himself.  I, too, had my doubts, because I’d prefer it if wine was made from love, not money.  But let me tell you that after tasting these wines, I no longer cared about who was making the wine, because they were fantastic!  I’ll be keeping my eye on this winery, for sure.  On top of that, the views were great (and we could see Abbey Road Farms from the tasting room!) and the facilities were brand new (still undergoing construction).  Sure, the wines do creep up in price, matching those of Domaine Serene and Adelsheim, but if I had to splurge on a bottle of wine, it’d be from here (actually we did splurge … on several bottles …).  Grade: A (could have been an A+ if the wines were a bit cheaper … that and if they got rid of the rather cheesy promotional materials that use the caduceus – those were pretty lame <I’m sure g would be happy to design a far superior logo/label if they’d pay her in Riesling and Pinot Noir>).

So where would we go on a second trip?  Or where would we recommend wine snobs go on a first trip?
We’d do Alexana, Carlton Winemakers Studio, Tyrus Evans Tasting Room (the Ken Wright that got away …), and we’d branch out to others like Penner-ash and Winderlea (the winemaker Robert Brittan has quite a reputation for great wines).  We’d also check out a winery or two at the Gorge (e.g. Syncline).

Where would recommend for non-snob first-timers?
–If visiting one place: Domaine Drouhin (yea, it’s none-too-exclusive, but I can’t fault them for doing a good job – and book the “Drouhin Experience” if you want a private tasting – it’s fun!)
–If visiting two places: Erath and Alexana (they’re close to one another and run the range from cheap to expensive)
–If you really want to see what Miles was blabbering about about pinot noir in the movie Sideways: add on Carlton Winemakers Studio

Ok … the next post … FOOD … it’ll be more interesting – I promise!