Willamette Valley Restaurants

We love exploring restaurants. We were, however, otherwise occupied during our six-day visit to the Willamette Valley. The International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) kept us full occupied for two and a half days (not to speak of another evening for our Pre-IPNC Dinner at Cristom Winery. And even during our time visiting wineries, we seldom found ourselves near the restaurants we most wanted to visit, so we ended up eating leftovers from previous evenings dinners and picking up sandwiches—such are the sacrifices we make for wine!

Even so, we did end up getting to four Valley restaurants. Although we particularly enjoyed one of these, overall, it would have almost been worthwhile to drive to Portland for meals. Our experiences at each of the four restaurants are summarized below:

  • Subterra (Newberg). We stopped here for lunch, where 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.
  • Jori (Newberg). 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. Then, one of our two dishes, 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 rice. 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.
  • Tina’s (Dundee). Although the service was not especially practiced, it was a very nice meal. We began with pan-fried oysters with sorrel mayonnaise, and then two entrees. The huge rack of lamb (eight ribs) was cooked perfectly and served with a sweet pepper sauce. The more unusual dish was a goat cheese soufflé with tomato sauce (which was interesting with the soufflé in small dabs, but whose acid could easily overwhelm the delicate soufflé). We enjoyed all three dishes as well as the 2011 Eversham Wood Le Puits Sec Pinot.
  • Nick’s (McMinnville). After the IPNC Sunday morning Champagne Brunch and afternoon Pinot Passport Tasting, we needed something, but were not ready for a full meal. We had wanted to try the highly recommended Nicks, so we gave it a try. The housemade meatballs with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese were all meat and good (at least after having 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.

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