(The original version, with many more photos, is here.)
13 July 2006 – Portland, Oregon
Andina – A busy nuevo-Peruvian restaurant that’s surprisingly dressy at lunchtime; I feel a little out of place in my shorts. There’s no hint of this displacement in the service, however, which is almost top-notch (they bring me the wrong wine at one point), and quite knowledgeable about the food.
The space is airy and bright, though anything other than the window-adjacent tables is definitely second tier. I order a special ceviche (or “cebiche” by their spelling) of ono, which is overly tart (a little too much residual juice) but delicious, and surprisingly filling. That’s followed by a pair of decidedly mixed tapas: fine octopus on endive that’s rendered bizarre by the addition of a fruity, lavender-colored sauce (allegedly “Botija olive,” though that can’t be all that’s in there), and cheese-stuffed yucca, lightly fried and served with a cheese sauce that tastes uncannily like one of those cheese-in-a-jar products you’d find at a supermarket.
At least the wine list is good, with quite a few nice offerings by the glass.
Olga Raffault 2005 Chinon Rosé (Loire) – What I actually order is the JM Raffault Chinon Blanc (I even point to the wine list), but this will do in a pinch. It’s a light memory of strawberry, preserved in wax and dusted with chalk.
Ameztoi 2005 Txakolina (Northwest Spain) – Ordering this wine leads to an amusing exchange with the waiter, who informs me that I’m “the first person to ever pronounce ‘txakolina’ correctly.” I find that a little hard to believe, but accept it with a smile…which increases when I notice that he’s left this glass off my bill. I guess all that practice at Piperade finally pays off. As for the wine, it’s terrific, showing intense minted lime and a vivid, vivacious, crystalline texture full of zesty yet invisible bubbles. It’s not sparkling, exactly, it’s just alive.
After lunch, I stroll around town for a while, then collect both our rental car and my wife and head south, in the endless traffic jam that is the road to the coast, and also to and through the Willamette Valley. It’s the latter that’s our destination….if, that is, we ever actually arrive.
13 July 2006 – Dundee, Oregon
Black Walnut Inn – In a spectacular setting far above the valley, with Erath’s vineyards several steep downslopes and dense, mossy forest in the glade behind, sits this very new (our room is only two weeks old) and luxurious B&B-style accommodation. It’s removed enough to be strikingly quiet, with the only noises coming from the chickens in a nearby coop (they supply many of the eggs for breakfast) and the occasional resident cat scratching at one’s door. Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson are visible on any semi-clear day, while a five-minute hike across the property gets you Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainier as well. It’s not cheap, but it’s about a third of what it would be in Napa…which somehow makes it feel like a bargain. Anyway, lodging options in the Willamette Valley are limited, and on short notice it’s either this or the Travelodge…
Red Hills Provincial Dining (276 Highway 99W) – As we’ll soon find, dining in the Willamette frequently means dining in a converted house. This, however, looks like it could be somewhere in the wooded hills of New Hampshire; it’s ultra-cozy, charming, a little kitschy, and perhaps just a wee bit on the dark side. Plus, there’s not exactly unlimited parking. Nonetheless, our server brightens the room with her cheery smile…and it’s soon dark outside, anyway.
The restaurant serves homey, French-inspired country fare, cooked very well, but lovers of plated complexity or refined restraint will probably shrug at the offerings. What they won’t shrug at is the (horribly-formatted) wine list, which is extraordinarily long and deep, and – amusingly – at its weakest when it comes to Oregon pinot noir. For example, an ’89 Trimbach CFE for $100 has got to be one of the great wine bargains of all time…assuming that it’s actually in stock. (More on that in a moment.)
I begin with an excellent pâté, correctly served with sharp mustard and cornichons, while Theresa rhapsodizes over her succulent crab cakes (the secret ingredient: Ritz crackers), and we both opt for braised rabbit in a very intense black olive and pinot noir sauce…one in which a few large sundried tomatoes are a completely unnecessary and distracting addition. The rabbit’s so good, however, it’s easy to ignore everything else.
Eyrie 1999 Pinot Noir “Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – Fully mature, showing dried cranberry and tart cherry steaming on the forest floor. Little hints of pine needle and very mild brett dance around the forest. A bit archaic vs. modern styles, but in a good and thoroughly enjoyable way.
We’re both too full for dessert, but a half-bottle of well-aged Maculan Torcolato at a ridiculous price beckons. Unfortunately, they don’t have it. Nor do they have a similarly-underpriced 18-year Macallan by the glass. The waitress makes up for having to disappoint me twice by offering a generous pour of 12-year Macallan on the house, but it’s not quite the same.
Macallan 12-year Scotch Whisky (Highland) – Grapey, oaky and a bit strident, with crisp caramel and some radish on the finish. I’ve always found this to have a significant burn on the palate, which is why I rarely order it.