On the Oregon coast, savor fish and chips, haute cuisine, and everything in between
When BlackfishCafé chef-owner Rob Pounding needs huckleberries to saucea duck breast for his Lincoln City, Oregon, restaurant, he knowsexactly where to go. "It's on the Salmon River, in an old trailerpark," he says. "We call it the Secret Spot." Chef-owner RickJackson of Chives OceanfrontDining in Gold Beach, stays closely attuned to the wild harvestunfolding in the forest up the road. "When the berries are comingout or the mushrooms are popping," he says, "my menu instantlyalters."
The same goes for Jesse Otero, chef de cuisine of BayHouse in Lincoln City. "I can get salmon that's less than 10hours out of the water because it comes from the dock to mybackdoor," he says. His summer menus start taking shape in winter,when he peruses seed catalogs with local organic farmers.
There's never been a shortage of restaurants on the Oregoncoast, most of which cater to tourists with menus heavy on chowder,burgers, and surf and turf. But a new wave of chefs is changing thedining experience, applying city-honed culinary skills to thecoast's bounty of seasonal, locally procured ingredients from riverand sea, forest and small farm.
At a small but growing collection of restaurants, the crab cakesmight come with a cornichon aioli and zesty carrot and napa cabbageslaw; the wild salmon is sometimes basted with fennel-lime butteror wrapped in shiitake-garlic spaetzle and red Swiss chard. Buteven the best of the lot never forget they're on the Oregoncoast.
True to the setting
At these coastal restaurants, the waiters might be wearing tiesand the tables could be draped with linen, but customers are stillwelcome in shorts and flip-flops. It's a phenomenon around whichPounding has shaped his cafe, saying that, to be successful,restaurants on the Oregon coast need to be three in one. "One, forpeople coming in off the beach with sand still between their toes;they want fish and chips," he says. Two, a place for gussied-upresort vacationers who want something a little more sophisticated.And three, an everyday family restaurant ― call it a bistro― where you can have a bowl of pasta and a relativelyinexpensive piece of grilled fish.
Otero, of high-end Bay House, feels there's still a dearth ofreally good medium-priced food on the Oregon coast. "Now it'smostly the $3 bowl of clam chowder or the $100 bill at the BayHouse," he says. What the coast needs, he adds, is moremedium-priced places with interesting, well-prepared meals.
Not that there's anything wrong with clam chowder or fish andchips, Pounding says; there's always a place on his menu for beachfood. "Fish and chips are a big deal for us," he explains. "When weopened, we took three or four months to develop the recipe. It's acombination of an English beer batter and a Japanese tempura. Wemake a real rémoulade, we don't serve a bottled tartar sauce,and our own cocktail sauce is made with fresh tomatoes.
"All those things people dismiss as junky American food ―when they're done right, they're superb," Pounding says.