You know when you travel how your schedule gets off and you just start to feel icky. Then on top of the schedule your eating is off because you don’t have your kitchen, your stores, your meal prep and you start to feel more off. I almost immediately start to feel like that. I LOVE food, all kinds, but my system seems to prefer simple unfussy foods. Mostly veggies, no sauces, simple fats and lean protein. This can be very hard to find when traveling, less so on the West Coast but still a challenge.
I was so pleased to find Tocaya on Sunset Blvd, right down the street from where we were staying. It is a build your own food type of place, mostly in theme of Tex-Mex but with the typical SoCal organic flair. I can take or leave the organic thing, but I did very much appreciate the simplicity of the food and the ability to add what I wanted and nothing more.
I ate here more than once in three days, I loved the outdoor seating. Cannot pass up the chance to sit outside in the mild California weather. And the food always left me feeling satisfied but not weighed down. Sword Fish salad for the win, olive oil dressing, simple greens, manchago cheese and mixed fruits/nuts. Perfection.
I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans in 2017, but before that happened I had been craving good creole food (let’s be honest I am ALWAYS craving creole food). It’s not common in the pacific northwest. There are plenty of restaurants that claim to have it, but most fall fairly short in my opinion. If you find yourself in a similar situation in Portland proper Miss Delta on Mississippi Ave or her predecessor and slightly dive-ier cousin The Delta Cafe on Woodstock are my go-to places. I promise eventually I will get around to writing up reviews. Which means I have to visit and eat at both again. I am not in the least bit sorry about this.
But this is not about those restaurants, this is about a new restaurant. New to me and new to the valley area, Gem. I discovered it on accident, a very happy accident indeed. One day wandering around McMinville Oregon wishing I could find some decent cheesy grits. And then right there in front of me was a lovely little restaurant with cheesy grits on the menu.
The interior is very purple and gold. VERY. Which makes sense as those are two of the three official colors of Mardi Gras. It was quiet (blissfully), the service was prompt (even better) and the food was hot and delicious. We were given a nice table by the window to watch all the happy people wander around in the sun (a rarity for that time of year here).
We ordered many (most) of the appetizers, giddy to get to try some long craved goodies. They did not disappoint. The grits were the best I have had outside of the south. Just thinking about it is making me want to go back. I wonder how they would feel if I ordered ALL the grits to go? Fried Okra, Hush Puppies and Fries were of course also incredible.
Gem is situated next to La Rambla (my favorite Spanish restaurant in the states) at 236 NE Third Street in McMinville Oregon.
There are a lot of really great restaurants in the Yamhill/Willamette/Tualatin Valley area thanks in part to our robust wine industry. Up until recently I had focused most of my time dining at restaurants in the Portland area, there are so many great places there you could go out every night and never run out. Having recently moved out of the area has given me the excuse to branch out a bit and boy was I ever happy to have given that chance after enjoying an unforgettable meal at Cuvee in Carlton, Oregon.
The restaurant resides on the main street of Carlton, about half through through the one stop sign town in the heart of Oregon’s wine country. It offers dinner on a prix-fixe menu, letting you decide soup/salad, a main entrée and a dessert or a starter. I had been wanting to go for a while. So when I happen to be in town for an event with a friend we jumped at the chance to eat dinner there.
Everything looked too amazing to choose. So we chose to share, I chose the asparagus leek soup (hot) it was amazing. We shared pomme frites, even more amazing. Then we split the salmon and lamb stew, saying the entrees were a religious experience would be an understatement. The sauce on the salmon was quite literally the best thing I have ever eaten. And the lamb stew was so tender and full of flavor I think both of us nearly passed out from sheer ecstasy.
By the time our entrée rolled around we were already full but we pushed ahead anyway because it was too good not to, and then we pushed ahead again for the dessert we chose to share which was a crème caramel. I have never tasted anything so rich and so light at the same time. It was gone in an instant and we have both been dreaming about going back ever since.
Aside from the exquisite food, the waiter was incredibly kind and friendly. The dining room was bright and quiet. I could not recommend a better French Restaurant in Oregon and think even a drive from Portland is worth it.
For our anniversary this last year we decided not to do anything big. Instead we spent a weekend in a small town just south of where we live that happens to house one of my all time favorite restaurants in the world.
I discovered La Rambla a number of years ago, right around the time my parents and I were discussing spending Christmas in Barcelona. I had started researching things to do and places to eat in Barcelona and as Google has a tendency to do, it pointed me to a restaurant near me (in Oregon) that was named after one of the attractions we were looking at in Spain. So I had to try it. The rest is history.
La Rambla is a small tapas restaurant in McMinnville Oregon. Frequented by locals and wine enthusiasts alike the restaurant has never been anything but packed regardless of day or time I have visited. The small intimate restaurant offers a wine list that is 7 pages long and a small but comprehensive list of snacks, entrees and desserts. And of course cheese.
As luck would have it (or perhaps my one track mind when it comes to a decent cheese plate) I forgot to take any pictures of our latest visit. Except the one of the cheese menu. Which I took so that I could remember the name of the goat cheese that knocked my socks off (Cana de Cabra in case you were wondering).
For our meal we shared a bottle of wine, a few cheeses, a small flat bread ending the meal with churros and chocolate. We were happily stuffed and also slightly disappointed we didn’t get to try more from their outstanding seasonal menu. I guess that just means we will have to go back. I think I would be pretty okay with that.
There is a small town on the Oregon Coast that I know quite well, they call it Astoria Oregon. Astoria, long famous for being the home of one of the most dangerous river bars in the world, childhood 80s movies and copious amounts of rain, also happens to be one of my childhood home towns.
If I am being quite frank, when I was a kid it was kind of (read really) a dump. A sad little town at the mouth of the Columbia River, with a crumbling downtown and a small tourist season in the summer. Somewhere between the 1990’s and the mid 2010’s the town managed to turn itself around and now has a booming year round tourist season and with it some really phenomenal restaurants. None of which existed when I lived there, naturally. One of the newest editions is Carruthers.
Carruthers is located kitty corner to the old Astoria Liberty Theater, which was renovated in recent years and is now used as a performing arts theater which has headlined shows with hometown staples like movies by Chris Lang and musical performances by Blind Pilot. The restaurant was built out inside the old Owl Drug Store (which was a filming location of Kindergarten Cop) and was originally a clothing store.
The interior has been decorated impeccably, we were sitting next to this fire place (see above) which I could not stop staring at, not least of which because it was about 40 feet tall.
Both the bar menu and the dinner menu was amazing, I could have ordered everything but stuck to the butternut squash gnocchi and could have eaten nothing else for the rest of my life and been happy. It was amazing.
The vibe of the restaurant is a bit more upscale than Astoria has been traditionally used to but happily people dined in all assortments of style. It seemed everyone regardless of Sunday best or just jumped off the boat clothing were right at home. I couldn’t stop staring at the lovely surroundings, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere and the incredible food. I was only occasionally distracted by the mirror pictured below, as I plotted how to steal it without getting caught. I failed to come up with a way to smuggle a 12 foot tall gold mirror out in my purse so I just took a picture.
Address an Additional Information: 12th and Commercial Astoria, Oregon 97103