As the wine industry has flourished in the northern Willamette Valley, the restaurant scene has developed to keep pace. There used to be one clearly excellent restaurant in the area: Nick’s. Now wine-country residents and travelers can pick from a number of good places to eat.
The low-key atmosphere of McMinnville’s downtown and the 1950s feel of Nick’s Italian Cafe (521 3rd St., McMinnville, 503/434-4471, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.–closing Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Sun., $49 prix-fixe dinner), a onetime soda fountain, might at first make you wonder whether it’s worth stopping by, but Nick’s is a wine-country classic with a wine list that is both extensive and distinctive.
As host to many wine-country functions, Nick is privy to special releases found nowhere else. The latter are fitting accompaniments to such culinary interpretations as lasagna with Dungeness crab and pine nuts, or rabbit braised in Oregon pinot gris and rosemary with Gorgonzola polenta. The five-course fixed-price dinner is highly recommended; if that isn’t in the budget, stop by for a panini sandwich or a wood-fired pizza at lunch ($9–12) or visit the back room in the evening to snack from the bar menu.
Another gem of a restaurant, Tina’s (760 Rte. 99W, Dundee, 503/538-8880, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5 p.m.–closing Tues.–Sat., 5 p.m.–closing Sun.–Mon., $22–36) is right on busy U.S. 99 in Dundee; as you’re heading west, look for a small red boxlike structure on the right-hand side of the road across from the Dundee fire station. Tina’s uses the freshest Oregon ingredients to create simple yet elegant fare. This place is a gem, as one bite of the pan-fried oysters will tell you. In what can only be interpreted as a good sign, it’s not uncommon to see local winemakers hanging out at the tiny bar.
Just east, where Route 99 meets 7th Street, Your Northwest (110 SW 7th St., 503/554-8101) is a complex selling a good selection of indigenous Northwest food and crafts. The venerated Ponzi Vineyards has a tasting room here (its main tasting room is in Beaverton) and the Dundee Bistro (503/554-1650, 11 a.m.–closing daily, lunch $11–16, dinner $12–22) is a reliable always-open spot for lunch or dinner that’s not quite as expensive as some of the more swanky places in the area.
Red Hills Provincial Dining (276 Rte. 99W, Dundee, 503/538-8224, 5–9 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $25–32) is a cozy, charm-filled restaurant that uses only the freshest local ingredients to create award-winning French- and Italian-inspired food.
Also in Dundee is Farm to Fork (1410 N. Hwy. 99W, 503/538-7970, 7 a.m.–closing daily, $11–20), one of the area’s newer restaurants, which celebrates the chef’s relationships with local farmers, foragers, ranchers, and fishermen. Along with its restaurant operations, Farm to Fork offers prepared food to go. It’s also one of the few places in the area that’s open for breakfast, and it’s certainly the best place in Dundee for a breakfast of duck confit hash ($12). Find it inside the Inn at Red Hills.
In Carlton, a good place to sit down to a dinner of country-style French food is Cuvée (214 W. Main St., 503/852-6555, 5:30–9:30 p.m. Wed.–Sat., 5–8 p.m. Sun., noon–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun. summer, $21–23). Order French standards such as coquilles St. Jacques, and make sure to check out the sautéed oysters with horseradish sauce as an appetizer. Three-course fixed-price dinners ($25, reservations recommended) are offered Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights.
The Joel Palmer House (600 Ferry St., Dayton, 503/864-2995, www.joelpalmerhouse.com, 6–9 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $29–37, reservations recommended) is considered one of Oregon’s finest historic homes and is on both the Oregon and the National Historic Registers. It was originally owned by the eponymous Joel Palmer, who was speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives in 1862 and Oregon state senator 1864–1866. Jack and Heidi Czarnecki have turned the Joel Palmer House into a one-of-a-kind restaurant that combines their love of mushroom hunting with fine wine.
Many dishes include wild mushrooms, and unless you’re really phobic about fungi, they’re highly recommended. Indulge your passion for mushrooms with the $75 seven-course mushroom madness dinner (must be ordered by everyone at your table). The restaurant is located at the junction of Routes 221 and 223, off Route 18.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel