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:
Well, you see how it is. The number and texture of issues in running a restaurant are virtually endless.
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
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