Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Sammy's

Ashland, Oregon, March 9, 2011—

BACK TONIGHT TO one of the great restaurants in the world — one of the top five, as far as I know. Given the online accessibility (to me) of our credit-card statements, and the compulsive nature of this blog, I could probably figure out how many restaurants we've patronized in the last few years. I'm sure the number would be an embarassment.

I'm also sure I would still maintain that New Sammy's is among the Top Five. Let's see: how many factors go into this sort of rating:
  • Intelligence: knowledge of the traditions and the repertories; ability to transfer that knowledge to the local context; concern with maintaining coherence within the establishment over the years
  • Skill: ability to execute the recipe in the kitchen; to transmit the intention to the staff; to maintain service; to maintain a healthy business
  • Ethics: awareness of the interconnectedness of producers, wholesalers, staff, and customers; commitment to sustainability of all these factors; ability to prioritize the needs of the various levels of the community within which one works
  • Aesthetic: fineness of palate; balance of textures in both small grain and larger components
  • Context: interest in and dedication to the politics, literature, history, and daily-life events of one's locale; but also of the larger contexts of nation and global issues
  • Well, you see how it is. The number and texture of issues in running a restaurant are virtually endless.

    WE DINED TONIGHT at a favorite place near Ashland, having driven up (actually ridden up, guests of friends) to see a couple of plays tomorrow. I've always said that the chef here, Charlene Rollins, is a genius of the braise, the art of slow cooking; and also of sourcing: whether from her own garden, or the local farmers and ranchers; or — a different kind of sourcing — from books, personal experience, and other such research into the great tradition (and, let it be said, innovation) of the combination of ingredients, the skilful manipulation of them in the kitchen, and the orchestration of menus.

    But tonight I simply had steak and salad.

    First, of course, came the amuse-gueule:

    This was a tiny tower of (bottom to top) tomato sauce, puff-paste, brandade, and house-made chorizo. It was delicious, perfectly pointed and focussed, and immediately took me to Madrid.

    Then there was the salad, a sort of chopped salad, with many pickled vegetables — broccoli for one — and olives, and fennel I think, onions of course, and lettuces.

    And then there was the pièce de résistance,

    a healthy local rib-eye steak, grilled rare, with horseradish cream, in a beef-red-wine-reduction, with a marvelous mash of root vegetables heavily on the carrot side — somehow light and delicate.

    Another truly memorable dinner, beautifully served in a small room with one other table, relaxed, convivial, nourishing, thoughtful, sensual, humane. There can be few such places, unless (as I suspect) there are many, and all of them unsung.
    Côtes du Rhône, La Pialade, 2005

    New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, Oregon; 541-535-2779


    Steven Patterson said...

    Ah, Charles. We TRIED for years to go to dinner at New Sammy's and never managed to make it - it was either closed, the timing was wrong, or we were just too poor. Someday, someday...

    Curtis Faville said...

    Some years back, a companion and I ate at a Black Angus franchise, somewhere along the Oregon NS turnpike, on the way home from Seattle and Portland. My companion is not a connoisseur of any description, and probably thought this a good choice, whereas I was filled with apprehension.

    Nonetheless, the big steaks we both had were magnificent. The baked potato and overcooked broccoli were nothing special, but the meat was several times better than I've had for six times the price and many "finer" restaurants over the years.

    Go figure.

    Charles Shere said...

    This steak was local, sustainable, grass-fed, and very delicious indeed. I've heard good things about the Black Angus chain, but I don't like to eat meat the details of whose feeding and treatment I don't know. I'm not particularly doctrinaire, but having grown up among farm animals I'm a little sensitive to their treatment, and having somewhat compromised health I'm concerned about hormone and antibiotic treatment. Then too, I no longer particularly like corn-finished beef, and am totally uninterested in the Japanese techniques.

    The secrets to great beef, like any red meat, are 1) healthy animals; 2) proper butchering treatment (including aging where appropriate); 3) judicious salting in advance of cooking. At least that's how I see it.

    Curtis Faville said...

    When we were in Kyoto in the 1980's, we were able to afford--because of the severely undervalued Yen at that time--a brilliant Kobe beef dinner at one of the top three restaurants there (yet it still cost us, in 1985 dollars, I think, $185 for three).

    It was brought to us in a huge bowl, and it was indeed soft enough not to require a knife to cut. The taste was magnificent as advertised.

    I'm not aware of what they actually do to the cows, but the scuttlebutt was that they "massaged" the cows or something--? Pampered in some way, I imagine. Is a healthy animal exercised, or pampered?

    I assume that nearly everything I get from supermarkets these days has been treated chemically at some stage of its life. I think that's prudent--I don't mean the chemicals, but the assumption that they do.

    Can we "afford" to eat "clean" food anymore?

    Charles Shere said...

    My understanding is that true Kobe beef are somehow massaged, at least to some extent; that they are fattend on beer- or sake-fermentation byproducts among other things; that they refer to a specific breed of animal; and that they are highly fat-marbled: for further on all this, see Wikipedia. I myself am not attracted to highly fat-marbled beef, and have found Kobe or Wagyu-style beef unpleasantly mushy in texture.

    But, yes, a healthy animal does get exercise; and, yes, these days at least any animal permitted to be healthy could be said to be pampered.

    I share your assumption in re. supermarket provender, and avoid it. As to affordability, the three-course prix—fixe dinner at New Sammy's was forty-five dollars on Wednesday night, which I consider affordable. The lamb scraps I bought at a farmstand last Sunday cost me six bucks for two pounds, and supplied our principal meal on two days, to balance out New Sammy's. Eating healthfully takes a little more time and forethought, but I think not necessarily much more money. And a healthy life is worth paying for; weakness and sickness are costly.