For restaurants in the Rogue Valley, 2012 wasn't a year for dazzling showplaces and extravagantly ambitious menus.
In fact, the most memorable meals of the year for me and my fellow Tempo dining columnists featured comfort food, street food and family recipes from around the world.
Dining out with
the Mail Tribune
Brad and Tara Boucher, who opened Sauce at 1640 Ashland St., Ashland, summed up the philosophy perfectly: "Simple food, well prepared, becomes special."
The restaurant's lamb curry, pan-fried naan and chai proves the point. The lamb is stewed in the sauce for hours to create a tender and flavorful dish. The naan delivers on the promise to be like none other you've ever tasted, slicked with healthful olive oil. And the milky chai, perfectly sweetened and redolent of Indian spices, is an ideal winter warmer.
Anya's Thai Bistro, tucked in a basement at 33 N. Third St., Ashland, is another delicious example of family recipes prepared with fresh, local ingredients. House-made spring rolls stand out here, with crisp layers of rice paper enfolding a light filling of glass noodles accented with a bit of finely diced veggies. The appetizer includes three enormous rolls for $5.50.
Two new Asian fusion restaurants brought a welcome burst of Vietnamese flavor to the valley this year — Tot Restaurant, 310 Oak St., Ashland; and Pho Sur, 4150 S. Pacific Highway, Phoenix.
Tot focuses on owner Sean Simpson's street-food favorites, serving up authentically delicious green-papaya salad and banh mi, along with pho on Friday and house-made tater tots that incorporate rice and come with tamarind-barbecue or peanut sauce for dipping.
Pho Sur has pho daily, along with succulent duck potstickers that come with a delicious dipping sauce. Strong Vietnamese coffee served with sweetened condensed milk is another highlight.
Inspired by the coffeehouses of Europe, Café 116, 116 Lithia Way, Ashland, serves quality coffee and delicious pastries. With organic blends from Blue Bottle Coffee Co., baristas pull espresso shots to produce perfect crema and top each latte with artistic flourishes in the foam. A citrusy sticky bun is a delectable companion for a cup of coffee or a latte.
For a divine sweet with Southern flair, head to Marco's Pepper Grill, 515 S. Riverside Ave., Medford, for bread pudding that's loaded with raisins, pecans, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and topped with bourbon sauce and a dusting of powdered sugar. Friendly service and Cajun and Creole specialties such as a crispy chicken po'boy, etouffee and crawfish chowder make the journey to dessert a pleasant trip.
Chef Justin Summerhays has infused downtown Medford mainstay Howiee's on Front with a taste of the South, too, upgrading the bar menu with a pulled-pork sandwich, a delectable catfish po'boy, homemade macaroni and cheese, and to-die-for honey-chipotle pork ribs. He fires up a smoker on the sidewalk outside, and his food drew acclaim during Medford's Smudge Pot Stroll, a food-centric part of Medford's annual Pear Blossom Festival.
Another winner at that growing food event was Spoons, 33 N. Central Ave., Medford. Owner Merrie Bechtold earned the "best taste" award from a professional judging panel for her curried root-vegetable stew. It's served on rice and is just one of dozens of homemade soups that rotate daily at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth building.
Bechtold is also part of the team that brought Capers to life next door at 35 N. Central Ave. It offers classic Italian dishes, including delicious bruschetta that combines simple ingredients to create deep flavor. Alfredo and risotto dishes are creamy and subtly seasoned; much lighter than standard Italian fare.
This is just a sampling of the newcomers we welcomed to the dining scene this year. I haven't mentioned some old favorites, such as Peerless and Tabu in Ashland, who continue to produce excellent meals. And this list doesn't include the food trucks, which are a little harder to find in winter but are growing in number and quality.
We clearly managed to eat well this year. And if the trend of simple fare properly prepared and offered at a reasonable price continues, we will all do even better in the next.
— Anita Burke