Whether it be a first date or golden anniversary (or any old Saturday night), there’s always reason to celebrate with some of Oregon’s most decadent treats: native truffles, oysters and sparkling wine. Typically reserved for special occasions, you can’t help but feel happy when eating oysters, indulging in truffles and breaking out the bubbly. It all sounds so fancy, but Oregon’s chefs and artisans make it easy to enjoy a luxurious evening in all corners of the state. Here’s how you can find the freshest, tastiest treasures this season:
While not as famous as their European counterparts, Oregon’s black and white truffles have been making a name for themselves, thanks to chefs and foragers across the state who wait all year for this prize to arrive.
Not unlike a fine wine, Oregon truffles have a depth of flavor described as earthy, savory, smoky and chocolatey, and chefs are willing to pay a premium for the ingredient. They’re dug up by truffle hunters and their trained dogs in Douglas fir forests across the state during a few peak weeks of winter in Oregon, right around the annual Oregon Truffle Festival in late January and early February — a celebration of this homegrown treasure that includes special dinners, tastings, classes, workshops and other events.
Even after the festival, you may find truffles on the menu at many top restaurants across the state, including Sybaris in Albany; The Painted Lady Restaurant in Newberg; Marché Restaurant in Eugene; Amuse Restaurant in Ashland; Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay; Newmans at 988 and Chef’s Table in Cannon Beach; Pronghorn Resort in Bend; and Nostrana, Beast, Headwaters, Paley’s Place and Imperial in Portland, among others.
Truffles aren’t just for garnishing. Oregon chefs use the truffle’s heady, intoxicating flavor to create the foundation of dishes like wild mushroom risotto and truffle-infused beef tartare, such as at the rustic yet elegant Joel Palmer House in Dayton. Here, founder Jack Czarnecki is a third-generation truffle forager who’s also launched a line of Oregon Truffle Oil, an easy way to bring the flavors home.
Pan-fried, roasted, barbecued or raw, oysters fresh from the Oregon Coast are a heavenly way to indulge. Grab a pound or two of beauties from Nevør Shellfish Farm near Netarts Bay in Tillamook; from Yaquina Bay at Oregon Oyster Farms in Newport; from Ecola Seafoods Restaurant and Market in Cannon Beach; or from Bandon Fish Market on the South Coast.
The smaller Pacific oyster varieties are salty and perfect raw with a mignonette and citrus garnish; larger ones are sweeter and some even come 6 to 7 inches, heavenly on the barbecue. The coveted Kumamoto oysters come into season around March.
The next time you’re looking to break out the bubbly, you can take comfort in buying local. There’s a growing number of fine sparkling wines made in the Willamette Valley, such as the handful of award-winning varieties produced by Argyle Winery in Dundee. Try the pinot noir sparkling blend with notes of ripe pear, fig and roast hazelnut. Their new tasting room — a spacious indoor/outdoor space complete with exposed beams and festive string lights — is a lovely spot to savor a flight.
In Carlton, Soter Vineyards makes a delightful brut rose that pairs perfectly with oysters — stop in for a tasting, by appointment only. And in Newberg, the upstart Mellen Meyer Winery focuses exclusively on their trio of sparkling wines, with private visits by appointment at their Portland tasting bar. Stop by for a sip at the wineries listed below and you’ll see why Oregon sparkling wine is getting well-deserved attention.