During our many visits to Willamette Valley Oregon, we revisited favorite restaurants and explored new ones. This summarizes the many meals we have had here. Of course, menus change. But our general impressions are as follows:
Babica Hen Café (Lake Oswego)
This is one of the valley’s favorite and most popular breakfast/brunch spots. We enjoyed two huge breakfast dishes: a brie and avocado omelet with roasted potatoes and Mexican-spiced prawns over polenta with red chile sauce and cotija cheese and two eggs (of which I had fried, sunnyside-up. As if these dishes were not enough, each also came with a choice of bread or pastries, of which we chose cornbread and biscuits. But as much as we enjoyed our very filling meals, our eyes kept wandering to the next table’s sinful-looking and sounding blueberry brulee French toast with amaretto blueberries and caramel.
Bistro Maison (McMinnville)
What a great meal and an interesting selection of dishes. And the serving sizes were huge—so huge that we ended up with doggie bags for the next day. The prosciutto and cantaloupe with arugula and figs hit the spot for the warm summer day. The white truffle fondue was very good. We were surprised that it included tillamook cheddar in addition to emmenthaler and gruyere. The cheese combinations (or maybe it was the added truffle oil) left a good deal of oil at the bottom of the pot. The huge cassoulet with duck confit, lamb, and ham was also very good. From their impressive, reasonably-priced list, we had a very nice 2018 Ayer’s Lewis Rodgers Lane” Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir. We shall return.
Dundee Bistro (Dundee)
We had a quick pick-up meal of a very good, thin-crusted fungi pizzette which easily fed both of us. We will have to return to explore several of the menu’s other interesting dishes.
Joel Palmer House (Dayton)
This fourth-generation restaurant specializes in foraged wild mushrooms and truffles, which it incorporates into many of its dishes. We took advantage of this focus with two three-course meals. The amuse bouche was a less-than-inspired carrot tartare topped with black trumpet mushroom. This was followed by appetizers. We selected a delicious three-mushroom tarte and a somewhat less interesting pan-seared foie gras with candy cup mushroom, caramelized onion, and a nice pinot gelee on brioche toast. The rack of lamb entree with lentils, morel mushrooms, and pinot-pepper demi-glace was good but not exciting. The chevre tortellini was less interesting than it sounded. It came with crab and a rich, tasty yellow foot mushroom cream sauce. Our dessert was a sinfully delicious candy cap mushroom crème brulee and a much less successful caramel apple ricotta crepe with pecans. Dinner ended with a chocolate truffle with hazelnuts. Our wine was a Walt Shea Vineyards Pinot Noir.
What an incredible disappointment. Our dinner experience got off to a great start: a lovely complex and restaurant in a beautiful setting, a table on the deck with a wonderful view and a sommelier that introduced us to a reasonably priced wine (a 2011 Vista Hills Marylhurst) that precisely met the flavor profile we had requested. Our first dish, a coriander-crusted albacore tuna with black rice cakes, pickled abalone mushrooms and smoked cashews, was delicious. So what could ruin this experience? A combination of two things. First, the wild Chinook salmon with egg fettuccine, peas, and pancetta with a pesto sauce sounded wonderful. We ordered it rare to medium rare. When it arrived medium, we returned it. The replacement took a very long time to come, and when it arrived, it was medium well. So, for the first time in our lives, we returned the same dish twice. The third try also took a long time. When it finally arrived, it certainly wasn’t overcooked. It was raw and the pesto sauce was uninspired. But what the heck, we like sushi. (The woman at the table next to us was lucky. While she specifically ordered her meat with not a touch of pink, it too had to be returned–but only once.) Throughout, and especially after our salmon travails, we barely saw our server. Then after finally getting our check, and waiting close to 15 minutes for her to return to pick it up, we eventually gave up and walked to the front desk to pay our check. Definitely a memorable dining experience: but unfortunately, not for the right reasons.
La Rambla (McMinnville)
We joined friends here and shared a meal and many small plate dishes. Our unanimous favorite was sauteed mushrooms in sherry cream sauce. Among other nice dishes were bacon-wrapped dates, braised beef empanadas, pork croquetas, and sautéed garlic chili shrimp. Our only disappointment was the dry, rubbery, tasteless fried calamari. We also shared two very serviceable, low-priced wines: 2021 Abacela Albarino and 2017 Beronia Riserva Rioja.
Nick’s Italian Cafe (McMinnville)
We had a light lunch at the highly recommended Nicks. The housemade meatballs with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese were all meat and good (at least after we had them reheated to be at least warm). The gorgonzola and pear pizza with caramelized onions was as advertised. While it was done perfectly, we weren’t excited by the combination. That, however, was more due to our tastes, rather than Nick’s preparation.
On a lunch stop, we had a nice three cheese, spicy sausage pizza, and a burger (consisting of beef, bacon, and short rib) with smoky blue cheese and chicken pate that sounded more interesting than it was. Although it was fine, we ordered it with expectations that were not quite met.
A dinner here consisted of two seafood dishes: potato-wrapped halibut with pinot beurre rouge, garlic mashed potatoes and zucchini; and a seafood stew with clams, prawns, scallops, fish and Linguica sausage in a saffron-almond sofrito with garlic, peppers and onions. Both dishes came with a choice of soup (chilled tomato cream and black bean) and mixed greens salad. The food was acceptable but had a major flaw. The black bean soup and especially the seafood stew contained way too much onion for our taste. Worse, the onions were undercooked and therefore astringent. While we generally addressed the issue by pushing the offending onions off to the side, this was less than an ideal solution. We assumed that the chef might have been off during our Monday night visit. Unfortunately, so was the sommelier. With a lack of guidance in navigating the wine list, we ended up with a 2013 Couer de Terre Heritage Pinot Noir. Although the wine was certainly acceptable, it was a less than ideal complement to our food. In sum, we cannot recommend the restaurant for dinner, or at least certainly not on Monday nights!
This popular restaurant has a fun wine list that has one, or possibly two wines apiece from a large number of the valley’s wineries. We have eaten here multiple times with mixed reviews.
While we have enjoyed the restaurant in the past, in 2022 we were very disappointed. We shared the overcooked pan-fried oysters and two other uninspired dishes: grilled citrus prawns and truffled mushroom sautee. Our wine was a big, nice 2018 Goodfellow Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir from Ribbon Ridge.
Too bad because in the past we have enjoyed the:
- Light, pan-fried oysters with sorrel aioli;
- A robust dish of wild mushrooms with truffle cream;
- A huge rack of lamb (eight ribs) served with a sweet pepper sauce
- Goat cheese soufflé with tomato sauce (which was interesting with the soufflé in small dabs, but whose acid could easily overwhelm the delicate soufflé).
- A blackberry and blueberry cobbler with almond crumble and fig ice cream.
At this casual spot at which we shared a disappointingly over-fried and doughy sweet corn and bacon fritter appetizer for lunch. The 1/3-pound burger with American cheese and sourdough roll and fries smothered in shredded pecorino and rosemary was more credible but not especially interesting.
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