Omar's Restaurant & Bar
Chef Franco Console continues to prepare consistently fine meals at Omar's Restaurant in Ashland. With a flair for "classic surf and turf," the 2004 graduate of Western Culinary Institute makes a good fit with Omar's tradition of quality cuisine set by original owners Omer and Hazel Hill.
The Hills built Omar's Steak & Chicken House in 1946, "in the country" along South Highway 99. (Omer's name was misspelled on the couple's new neon sign. Rather than replace it, the Hills accepted the new spelling.) Omer Hill's experience with dinner houses in California soon made the restaurant one of Southern Oregon's favorite dining spots.
Omar's has been named Ashland's favorite steak and seafood house in a local poll every year since 1992. Its chefs have been finalists in the city's Food & Wine Classic since the competition began in 2007.
Console took the top honor in the 2009 Classic's Chef Showdown. He's also held top positions at Ashland Springs Hotel and Medford's 38 Central.
Southern Oregon University and Ashland's city limits have grown up around Omar's prime location at the junction of Highway 66 and Siskiyou Boulevard, and anyone who has spent much time in Ashland — students, visitors and residents — has walked through its doors.
It's been a while since I've darkened that venerable entrance, but with a working woman's appetite and a fussy dining companion in tow, I happened to spot a parking space directly in front of the busy restaurant on a Saturday night.
If you haven't already experienced Omar's, you must be seated in the main dining room. The velvet-flocked wallpaper and red, rolled-and-tucked upholstery surrounding the room remain intact, along with historical photos that mark the restaurant's 66 years.
Though it was late when we arrived, the dining room was still full. Reservations aren't accepted at Omar's. It's first come, first served.
As soon as we were seated, I ordered a basket of zucchini fingers, a longtime house favorite. These delectable vegetable sticks are fried in beer-and-buttermilk batter to a light, flaky crisp and served with fresh lemon wedges and ranch-style dipping sauce.
Other appetizers include onion rings, escargot in mushroom caps, prawn cocktails, calamari tempura, steamer clams and black mussels with Asian vegetables in curried coconut broth. Prices range from $5.95 to $8.95.
Omar's nightly specials may typically include such appetizers as butternut squash ravioli or fire-roasted calamari finished in butter and herbs. An array of dinner specials could include Hawaiian opah or ahi, Alaskan halibut, Oregon sole or rack of lamb. Prime rib is a Saturday-night tradition.
I chose boneless chicken thighs, oven-poached in rosemary- and garlic-infused olive oil, with whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables, a house specialty for $16.95. My friend opted for a special: seared tombo tuna with rice and fire-roasted Brussels sprouts ($22.95).
We enjoyed our selections very much. Food doesn't get much better.
Steaks start at $14.95 for 7-ounce petite top sirloin ($17.95 for the 10-ounce). Filet mignon, rib-eye and porterhouse cuts are available for $22.95, $23.95 and $29.95, respectively.
Australian lobster, Alaskan king crab, Pacific oysters, tempura prawns, calamari picatta and pan-roasted snapper span the gamut of seafood entrees, along with Tuscan seafood fettuccine, a house favorite. Prices range from $13.95 to $32.95. Steak-and-seafood combinations also are available, and Omar's will offer specials on oysters through February.
Jamaican jerked chicken, smoked pork porterhouse, roast chicken, grilled portobello mushrooms and chicken-fried steaks also grace the menu ($12.95 to $19.95).
I noticed some new dishes, as well as such old favorites as toad-in-the-hole, an 8-ounce sirloin patty served on a baked potato covered in country gravy ($12.95). Omar's also has one of the best burgers I've ever bitten into.
In all things, change is certain, but good things last.
— Laurie Heuston