slugs, mollusks, and storms: culinaria eugenius in yachats


It’s raining again, and I feel like this banana slug, who like us escaped the forest to head out to the beach over Spring Break.  You know things are bad when even the slugs abandon ship.

Unfortunately, neither of us had the sense to go to a warm beach.  Oh well. Yachats was lovely in the storm.  We stayed right on the beach and watched the furious waves.  I tried to spot whales, reportedly on their spring migration all along the central Oregon coast, but it was a fruitless endeavor in sheets of rain and whitecaps as far as the eye could sea.

The seagulls and I shared meals of mollusks — they ate mussels, and I ate panfried razor clams at The Drift-Inn, a great little place in Yachats that’s been around for decades as a dive bar but has been gentrified, to the delight of a packed house.  They play live music every night (not updated on the website, unfortunately): jaunty old-timey fiddle and guitar duo that night.  Very pleasant.  I sang along.  And the menu is endless, featuring all the expected seafood specialties one might need and more.  We started with a slightly sweet hunk of house-smoked salmon, served with grapes, hardboiled egg, red onion, Ritz crackers, and a dried-parsley rolled cream cheese ball.  I don’t even know when last I saw dried parsley, much less a cream cheese ball rolled in it, but I kind of dug it in a retro way.

We (Retrogrouch, not the seagulls, and I) also shared a cup of the not-very-smoked salmon chowder and a much better special, a delicious hedgehog mushroom soup with caramelized onions, presumably with local hedgehog mushrooms.  Retrogrouch had the crab-breaded halibut. Service was a bit haphazard, given the huge crowd on a terribly rainy night that I’d imagine was a surprise.  I kind of wish we had sat at the bar, a lovely old wood wraparound number lit by dozens of colored glass lamps.  One of these days I’m going to chronicle these old Western bars.  Really one of our regional treasures.

And I heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

We also ate at a much newer local spot, the Luna Sea Fish House, owned by a fisherman, Robert Anthony, whose boat and recent crab catches are captured on video that plays on one wall.  Much better than a football game, if you ask me.  This tiny place features Chinook salmon, albacore, and crab he brings in himself, other local fish and shellfish in season from the Oregon coast, and standards from further afield.  There’s a small fish counter that had clams, crab, and a few varieties of fish whose origins were noted on a chalk board.

As difficult as it was to avoid the fish and chips almost everyone was eating on that stormy day, I opted for some mild but tasty marinated mixed-fish tacos made from trim, served with guacamole and a vinegar fresh vegetable slaw, colorful as the buoys we saw lining a fence nearby, and seasoned fries.  Add your own hot sauce, any of several on the table.  Retrogrouch had a salad of decent lettuces (it is winter, after all) topped with delicious  Chinook salmon at an outrageously low price for fish that had been pulled out of the sea by the restaurant owner.  The slumgullion, a clam bay shrimp chowder with melty strands of white cheeses that oozed off the spoon with each bite, looked pretty darn good, too.

On our way home, we chanced into sushi in Florence, a meal that ended up being my meal of the week last week on Food for Thought. Friendly, casual, promising Aloha Sushi operates out of the kitchen at Riley’s Steakhouse, right on 101 just north of the 126 junction, and serves up the wild and often sauce-drenched fusion sushi rolls I don’t like but they take them to the level of high kitsch (the surf and turf roll I spied at another table was a particularly egregious example).  Ignore these and instead focus on the subtle Hawaiian touches Chef Christian Jakobsen (a Hawaiian by birth and training) brings to very fresh fish in the standards.  He’s young and exuberant, which accounts for some of the wild fusion impulses, but it’s clear that he has been schooled well at his chef-father’s well-known restaurant.  The sushi menu is vast, with every possible combination one can think up (including guava jelly).  Again, don’t be scared away — easy to ignore if you’re not into fusion rolls, and if you are, heaven help you, you can enjoy some fascinating possibilities.

We had the best, silky salmon belly sashimi I’ve had in a long time, draped over seaweed salad, followed quickly by the mixed fish poke (above), a colorful melange of raw fish and cephalopods, onion, green onion, sesame, and garlicky soy vinegar dressing.

And the cucumber and cabbage sunomono salad, on the menu as pickled vegetables, made even less Japanese and more Hawaiian by the inclusion of furikake, a crunchy topping of nori and sesame spices, was quite nice too.  Retrogrouch had a huge bowl of miso soup with cabbage and tofu, and I enjoyed a surprising roll of mackerel with seaweed salad and grated ginger, a combination I had never seen before…but it really worked.

One thing to keep in mind about Aloha Sushi is that Urbanspoon is not updated with its new location.  It is now in Riley’s Steakhouse at 1161 Highway 101, roughly across the street from its previous host, a small seafood shack that is a former gas station.  And I see why. So once again, here’s a link to their website. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a link to their menu on the site and hope they fix that soon.  (And more unsolicited advice: hold the mayo and rice, please, on the more classical preparations like the sashimi and poke.  We’re in it for the extremely fresh fish!  And replace the green tea immediately.  It’s wretched.)

I managed to jump out of the car to snap a shot of a patch of pretty skunk cabbage blooms, and we made it back to Eugene just as the road crews were putting up high water signs on Highway 126.  More branches had fallen in our yard.  What a mess of a spring.  Hope you’re staying warm and dry.