Shakespeare, and Good Eats in Oregon
Sesame, an Asian fusion restaurant, is one of several new options luring Oregon Shakespeare Festival fans in Ashland.
By JENNIFER MARGULIS
Published: July 7, 2010
WHILE the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, currently in the midst of its annual nine-month-long run, has long been a magnet drawing culture seekers to Ashland in southern Oregon, the scenic town has never been much of a destination for food enthusiasts. But a number of new and wide-ranging restaurants are redrawing the town’s culinary map.
At Blue (5 Granite Street; 541-708-5150), a lively, upscale Greek restaurant that opened this April, the vibe is more Athens than Ashland. Greek pop music blares, pots of purple sage and oregano serve as centerpieces on patio tables under blue umbrellas, and interlocking Greek spirals (blue, of course) adorn white walls.
Gloria Rossi Menedes, the owner, who is of Greek and Italian descent, carries cayenne and olive oil in her purse. She has also made sure that everything on the menu — from the extra garlicky tzatziki to the handmade falafel (each $8) — is well spiced. For at least one diner, the effect was welcome. “It’s humid today and it makes us feel like we’re in the isles of Greece,” said Andy George, an Ashland native trying the restaurant for the first time.
More intimate is The Loft (18 Calle Guanajuato; 541-482-1116), another of Ashland’s new restaurants, dishing up contemporary American food with a French spin. As the spot’s name implies, seating is upstairs in an airy space with 20-foot ceilings and a restrained décor. On the menu you’ll find macaroni and cheese with truffles from the nearby Oregon coast ($15), coq au vin made with free-range chicken from a farm in Medford, Ore. ($17), and housemade chocolates served with sauce made from hand-picked huckleberries ($6). “We see southern Oregon as its own ecosystem,” said Jacqueline Vidalo, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Jeremy. “It’s easier this way: if we run out of something, we can go pick it up.”
If you’re looking for more conventional French fare, try Chateaulin (50 East Main Street; 541-482-2264), an old Ashland standby. Patricia and Douglas Volk, who took over the restaurant earlier this year, have reinvented the space, with bistro-style dining at tall tables with stools, as well as a wine bar and specialty food shop. The kitchen serves small plates and à la carte items like Tomme de Savoie cheese with white port poached pears and Marcona almonds ($12) and smoked beets layered with chèvre and topped with radish sprouts ($11).
“The duck pâté is really exceptional,” said Samantha Waltz, in town from Lake Oswego, Ore., to see “Pride and Prejudice” at the festival. “It’s flavorful but mild, where some pâté is really overwhelming.”
It took Tom Beam, a co-owner with his wife, Lisa, and Santino Monteblanco, the head chef, four months to perfect the flavorful organic broth used in the Vietnamese beef pho ($10.95) at Sesame (21 Winburn Way; 541-482-0119; sesameasiankitchen.com), which opened last April. The duo added a new dish last month: Thai-style seasoned pulled pork with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves ($12.95). An ultramodern minimalist Asian fusion restaurant across from the scenic Lithia Park — a short walk from the festival theaters — Sesame has a wall of bay windows meant to draw your attention outside.
“And if that’s where you’d like to eat,” said Lisa Beam, “order our picnic service, sit on tatami mats, and our staff will bring your food to the park.”