Thursday, May 2, 2013

Honeymoon: The Painted Lady, Newberg OR

Thursday May 2, Newberg OR

After a morning tasting wine and a killer lunch at Nick's Italian Café in McMinnville, we spent the afternoon at the B&B where I got in a nice long and much needed nap before we headed down the hill once again into downtown Newberg where we ate at the restaurant that is by most accounts the top-rated one in the Willamette Valley, The Painted Lady. Chef Paul Bachand from Recipe had booked our table for us the night before and The Painted Lady texted me to confirm early in the day on Thursday and I let them know that I was a visiting fine dining chef and I just wanted them to cook for us.

Clean, Spare Dining Room
So when we arrived at the lovingly restored but very tiny Victorian wood-frame house situated on a corner lot behind a white picket fence and were seated in the very nicely appointed, but not over the top, dining room, it was no surprise that food just started coming out of the kitchen. Other tables seated near us were just getting going as well and they were getting the menus and the spiel from the service staff and I could see some of them wondering why we were getting different treatment. All it takes is a phone call.

Before we get into the food, a few comments about the restaurant and the staff. Once the sun set, the dining room was too dark for me to see most of what I was eating and the older I get the more light I seem to need. I don't mind dim lights, but when I have to use my cellphone to illuminate a plate to see the fantastic artwork on it, I call that too dark. I'm not faulting the restaurant on this choice, because that's how they have chosen to do things. I choose differently in my own restaurant. And you will see from the limited number and poor quality of photos how dark it was. I didn't bother to take any photos knowing they wouldn't be any good anyway.

The service was impeccable. I can remember exactly once in the whole 3-1/2 hours we dined at The Painted Lady that an empty wine glass stayed on the table for a minute longer than it should have (according to their service model; me, I could not care less if that glass stays there all night as long as it doesn't get in my way) and that's when every server on the floor was putting plates down at an 8-top nearby. Impeccable. New glassware and a totally new set of silverware with each course and everything about the service was silky smooth and polished.

The service was impersonal. We tried to crack through the starched reserve of some of the servers and we did elicit a smile or two from time to time, but they work from the model that they are servers, they do what you need, and they don't interact any more than necessary with the guests. This is a very old school European model that many of the very high end restaurants in the US aspire to and at The Painted Lady, they succeed very well.

But that's not what I want! I want personality and character from the staff and something that tells me that they are having fun at what they do. I want a server that comes to the table and exclaims, "This dish is freaking awesome; you are so going to love it!" I want to see pride without arrogance on the faces of the service staff, pride that comes from knowing that they are serving an amazing product and providing a unique experience. The service at The Painted Lady was not robotic, but it wasn't charismatic either.

The wines selected for our food were impeccable as well. I really appreciated the selection and variety of local wines that were paired with our dinner. As a chef who pairs wines with each dish on his menu, I can say to The Painted Lady, "Job very well done!" Thank you for introducing me to Walter Scott wines from Eola-Amity Hills, a tiny producer of exceptional wines.

And finally about the food. I sit here at the keyboard and I can tick off several dishes that got my chef juices flowing during the course of our stay in Oregon: the nettle gnocchi and the radishes at Thistle, the potato-nettle pizza at Nick's, and the laap at Pok Pok (to be discussed later in this series). But there was no one memorable dish for me at The Painted Lady. To be sure, I remember the scallop in the scallop crudo for being so sweet and fresh and I remember Ann's chocolate dessert for being so over the top, but the food didn't leave any lasting impression other than it was very high quality and very well presented.

This probably says more about me than it says about the restaurant and Chef Allen Routt, who spent a few minutes with us after dinner, when I learned that he is no stranger to this part of the world, having cooked a stint on the line at the Inn at Little Washington and also having worked for the late Jean-Louis Palladin. This says that I like more direct dishes that are mainly ingredient-driven and perhaps more rustic as a result than I like impeccably executed dishes that are more chef- and technique-driven.

Amuses: Fava Hummus on Papadum, Gougères, and ???

Chef's Trio: Salmon Tartare, Breaded Quail Egg; Goat Mousse on Cheese Straw


Oysters and Lardons

Crabmeat, Caviar, Delicious Curried Soup

Nettle Ravioli, Parsnip Puree, Summer Truffles
I'm a chef and I use truffles all the time. They don't excite me.

Scallop Crudo, Avocado, Crispy Salmon Skin, Dashi Sphere

This dish got Ann to asking about the dashi sphere but spherification and reverse spherification techniques are not dinnertime conversation for anyone save super nerdy chefs. I played with all this some years ago, but it's just not me or my thing. This was probably the dish that I liked best.

Mini Margarita Slushee Intermezzo

You can see from the light of the votive in the intermezzo photo that it is just too dark in the dining room to take pictures. This votive was all the light we had! It's a pity because there are a lot more beautifully presented dishes that you can't see.

Missing are a ling cod dish, a salmon dish (that salmon was super well cooked), a foie gras course (foie doesn't impress me unless you bring out a terrine of it, a loaf of crusty bread, some great wine, and we all sit around getting fat, dumb, and happy!), a beef tenderloin (excellent flavor) dish, a venison dish, a small cheese course, and Ann's chocolate fantasy that was too big for four people. I wish you could have seen the amount of labor that went into that one dish. Chocolate is not my thing, but my hat is off to the person that conceived of and plated that dish.

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