Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene.
In an inestimable loss for Eugene, Marché Provisions and wine expert Ryan Stotz have parted ways. I can’t really express politely how I feel about this, since Ryan is my friend and co-host on the radio show, and more importantly he taught me and continues to teach me about wine. But I will say this: as a literature professor, I know a natural writer when I see one, and I look everywhere for his kind of talent.
Why is he not writing a wine column in a national magazine? I’ll even confess that I would occasionally — just occasionally — go and sneak photos of his signs in the shop. For me, it was less about which wines were good, but more about the exuberance with which he expressed his love of the chase, the capture of weird flavors, and elusive bargains. And he can tease out flavors and scents that you and I have only fantasized of tasting and smelling in the barnyard of meadow flowers set with a picnic table smorgasbord crowned with orange blossoms and Twizzlers of our dreams. I always felt he was at his best, in fact, when he was waxing about the lime zest or blood or asphalt or cascading honeysuckle in a $12 bottle than in the $89 Austrian chardonnay, which he didn’t need to sell other than to say look, you need to buy this. At Provisions, he fought the good fight to expand our palates — pick Chiroubles instead of that insipid Oregon Pinot Noir everyone else will bring to the potluck. Chablis instead of Pinot Gris with our crab: just try it, give it a chance. Germany and Northern Italy and Portugal and weird Central European biodynamic producers! See for yourself:
I suppose I should see this event, and Ryan’s inevitable departure, as one really must view the brain drain of Eugene’s Generation Xers. Unfortunately, for the children of the Summer of Love, Eugene is a stopover, not a destination, and I’ve watched so many of my friends leave when they can’t make a living for themselves and their families here. Joyce would have been paralyzed had he stayed in Dublin, right? Change is good. But it still hurts like hell. Pass the wine.
If 5th Street is having some rocky moments, Downtown ascends. I worry a little bit about the above, plus the long rollercoaster of downtown history and the boom-and-bust experiences of Eugene restaurants, so let’s make sure we support the emerging food venues downtown. Among them, I’m particularly excited about Kamitori; Noisette Pastry Kitchen; Soubise (opening May 12 for Mother’s Day brunch, follow news on the former Rabbit Bistro page); and the Party Downtown/Red Wagon Creamery joint effort, opening WHAT?! TODAY!
Kamitori, which continues to provide the best Japanese-style sushi in the area, will be expanding its saké selection dramatically as of this week. I counted 73 offerings on the new menu, with great descriptions and prices to match. Many of the sakés are ones rarely available in the U.S. Chef Masa also told me he’s planning to hold sushi-making classes, most likely on a Sunday or Monday evening. I’d be happy enough just to eat his uni from Maine, which is sweeter and creamier, and somehow even fresher than the standard uni available from California.
I managed to shoot a single photo of the interior of Soubise (above) on First Friday, after they took down some of the paper covering the windows facing Broadway (just west of Willamette). They’ll probably be mad at me, but I’m so excited for them and couldn’t help but spread the word. Still finishing up the details, but it looks great so far, huh?
Across the street from Soubise and next to the new Bijou and the already-crowded-and-weirdly-reminiscent-of-a-high-end Irish pub First National Brewery, Party Downtown and Red Wagon Creamery held an open house a few days ago. I was off my photo game, but allow me to assure you that the interior in the ice cream parlour in the front, and the Party business in the back are gorgeous, unlike anything in town. Visit yourself this week and see the already-famous penny floors in the Ladies and Gents. Canners may enjoy the mason jar light fixtures at Red Wagon. And you all better appreciate the cool old wood floors that the team refinished and installed in the hallway separating the two businesses.
The ceramic fixtures at Party Downtown were made by a local artist. I especially like the one above the new bar, which is headed up by former Marché bartender James West. (He made me promise not to write a review yet, so I will not tell you his white negroni is fabulous. You will have to wait to hear that from me.) But I also like the mid-century mis-matched dinnerware that the team dug up at a local restaurant supplier.
Surely, you need not listen to me go on yet again about how good I think chefs Tiffany Norton (below, with savory greens slab pie) and Mark Kosmicki’s food is, especially the savory donut with pickled spiced garlic dust filled with a pimento cheese-like spread, or the garlic chive custard spread with “wheat thins,” below.
But another matter altogether is the bar mix (below). It’s dehydrated and deep-fried dent corn and beans, made salty and spicy and over the top good. It was extremely difficult not to make off with the bowl and bury it in my yard like a squirrel.
Luckily, I am not a squirrel. So I stayed for dessert, and had a mini pavlova with beet syrup and tarragon and dandelion wine-infused whipped cream. It seems that Red Wagon will have a similar pavlova as an introductory special with the ice creams you’ve grown to love. Aren’t they lovely?
In other downtown news, Davis has reopened, with the bar rather awkwardly moved to the side of the dining area to accommodate a band/DJ area where the old bar used to be. I understand that they are trying to increase the late night club business, but I kind of wish they hadn’t dumbed down the menu. Oh well.
Oakshire Brewing will be hosting Track Town brewmaster Christina Canto for an intimate class on malt with the women’s beer group Barley’s Angels. Learn the process of malting, the different malt types and how it affects the overall flavor in beer. Sample 5 different Oakshire beers and enjoy food from Sammitch Food Truck. $15/person. For reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tuesday, May 21, 6:30pm until 8:00pm.
Missing your favorite local chefs Mike Meyer of the dearly departed Red Agave restaurant or Shane Tracey of Nib? The great news is that you can have their food again: Chef Mike at Ox & Fin, and Chef Shane at Excelsior Inn, where he is the pastry chef.
Tokyo Tonkatsu, another downtown offering, needs improvement. I found the ingredients extremely low quality, difficult to make evident in a restaurant that is basically all fried food. And a lack of salt and lackluster service make it difficult to recommend. Remind employees they shouldn’t be chatting loudly about their impressions of the restaurant trade while the dining room has customers in it, please.
Meanwhile, in Springfield…
Plank Town Brewing Company is off and running, and truly a reason to head out to the other downtown. The decor is inviting, showcasing wood grains in a slightly strange vast space formerly housing a rambling antiques store. It’s probably the area’s only true “gastropub,” with a menu that is developing but trying to reach the gourmand and the burger lover at once. This might prove too big a challenge, but it’s cool that the chef clearly takes pride in the food and I’m willing to support them as they play.
Whew, that was long! No more of these for a while…