Ashland, Ore., is located at the foot of the Rogue Valley, a wine region many experts perceived as "Napa 20 years ago." Two hundred-something miles from Portland and in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake and Klamath Falls, Ashland enjoys a mild Mediterranean-type climate and a cornucopia of locally grown produce duly featured at the farmers' market and regularly picked up by restaurant chefs.
For a tiny town of only 20,000, Ashland has a record number of good restaurants, be it the French-cuisine Chateaulin with a traditional Provencal menu (escargot, bouillabaisse, ratatouille), Hana Sushi, BZ's Last Stand and Hacienda, or a casual yet deservedly famous lunch joint, Allyson's Kitchen, serving bursting with flavor sandwiches and salads.
Ashland chefs inevitably start their search for prime ingredients at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market. All kinds of delicacies can be found here, from beets, sorrel, and lobster mushrooms to bison and goat sausages, sheep and goat dairy items, hand-made pasta, and wild berry preserves.
Here, at the market, I've learned about creative collaboration between vendors and chefs, and about THRIVE, The Rogue Initiative for Vital Economy that promotes this collaboration and publishes Rogue Flavor, a layman guide to fresh locally grown produce.
It became immediately clear to me how the unbelievably talented chef Chandra Corwin at Cucina Biazzi comes up with her "antipasti di stagione" (seasonal appetizers) that might include artichokes, avocado, mushrooms and asparagus complimented by cheese and crostini, and where her inspiration for supremely delicate ravioli with crisped sage and brown butter comes from.
I also realized why the Larks lunch menu was simply called From the Market.
I won't soon forget Larks' peak-of-the-season rainbow-colored heirloom tomato salad with fresh herb vinaigrette – an emerald mixture of parsley, cilantro, thyme and mint.
The restaurant is a part of the historic Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925, and makes a point of serving locally-grown goodies. Rogue and Applegate Valley wines, fresh Oregon oysters and microgreens that come from a local enthusiast who allegedly grows them in his self-built hothouse are on the menu.
Winchester Restaurant & Wine Bar is yet another wonderful hotel eatery, located at the Winchester Inn. Breakfasts usually offer three choices: poached eggs with gourmet sauces, frittatas/omelets, and waffles/pancakes/French toast with fresh berries. An attentive staff will bring a delicious house-made scone or muffin to the table in any case, along with a large cup of coffee or a gourmet Tea Forte silk pyramid.
Downtown Ashland is studded with great places to indulge in gourmet food and high- quality wine, such as Weisinger's of Ashland, EdenVale Enoteca or Liquid Assets, a wine bar that offers more than 20 wines from around the globe and a French-inspired menu and also displays the works of local artists.
And then there is beer. Caldera Brewing Company is the first brewery in Oregon that crafts and cans its whole-flower hops beer on premises. Caldera's 14 beers (to date), including seasonal specialties, have won 35 medals in prestigious North American and international competitions. It would be hard to pick a favorite among its ales, stouts, and lagers, but my personal best is a refreshing and delicious IPA, "an American-style India Pale Ale brewed with plenty of body and an assertive hop profile."
Please note that BZ's Hacienda and Allyson's Kitchen are no longer in business since visiting.
Photos by Emma and Yuri Krasov