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Tasting Notes: Macaroni's Ristorante; Thai Pepper

With "neoclassic" Italian dining in a family-friendly atmosphere available downstairs and a trendy lounge upstairs, Macaroni's Ristorante and Martino's Restaurant & Lounge offer all the creature comforts to please locals and tourists alike.

Both venues are just steps from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival courtyard — out the back door of Martino's or a quick jaunt up the Chautauqua Walkway, between 42 and 50 E. Main St. Lunch and outdoor seating are available during the warmer months.

A locals' favorite when tourists clear out for the season, Macaroni's is comfortable while the fare is affordable and filling. Entrees include a choice of Caesar salad, "insalata mista" (fresh greens and vegetables in vinaigrette) or minestrone.

The original restaurant, opened in 1989, was the brainchild of Beasy McMillan, who turned many dining concepts into successful Ashland eateries. Macaroni's is now operated by Marty Morlan, formerly a waiter for McMillan. Morlan added the upstairs lounge around 1995 and serves a late-night bistro menu there.

Martino's and Macaroni's are serviced by the same kitchen, known for its specialty pasta dishes, gourmet pizzas and calzones. Meals start with a basket of white and dark bread. Olive oil, vinegar and grated Parmesan are among the staples at each table.

Recommended: Capellini d'Mediterranean, angel hair tossed with chicken, Kalamata olives, spinach, tomatoes, white wine-garlic sauce and feta; Pollo con Liquore, chicken, button mushrooms, olives, peppers and linguini in sherry and brandy cream sauce; "Straw 'n Hay," fettuccine tossed with ham, mushrooms, peas, tomatoes and cream; Santa Rosa pizza, topped with feta, sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic, mozzarella and pepper; Caesar salad, traditional tiramisu and Sicilian vanilla ice cream with walnuts, marsala wine and spices.

Alternative diets: Numerous seafood selections; a half-dozen vegetarian pastas, pizzas and calzones.

Beverages: Extensive list of local, other domestic and imported wines by the glass, half-bottle and bottle; domestic and imported beers on tap and bottled; specialty cocktails, scotch, port and full bar; bottled and fountain sodas, tea, coffee and espresso.

Price range: Antipasti, $4.50 to $13.50; salads, $5.50 to $14.95; entrees, $11.95 to $19.95; pizza and calzone, $8.50 to $12.95; desserts, $5.50 to $6.

Extras: 18-percent gratuity may be added to parties of six or more; $2 split-plate charge; $12 corkage fee; add 50 cents per takeout order; parking on the Plaza.

Serving: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; lunch hours return in spring.

Info: 58 E. Main St.; 541-488-3359 or 541-488-4420; www.martinosashland.com.

Thai Pepper

Cuisine and scene: Before Thai cuisine was widespread in the Rogue Valley, prolific restaurateur Beasy McMillan assigned a refined persona to the often fiery fare. It's been two decades since chef Billy Harto purchased the place and expanded the upscale menu. The past few years also have seen the expansion of Harto's Asian-food empire along Ashland Creek with the Japanese-inspired Kobe and Thai Pepper's Satay Bar, which plays to the small-plates trend.

Recommended: Tiger rolls, a cream cheese and crab spring roll; chicken curry wontons; sweet and spicy crispy fish; pad Thai with chicken or shrimp; Thai-style fried rice with pineapple and black tiger prawns.

Alternative diets: Most menu items list meat, but vegetarian and vegan requests routinely accommodated; Satay Bar features tofu and vegetable skewers.

Beverages: Local, other domestic and imported wines by the glass, half-bottle and bottle; domestic and imported, bottled and draft beers; sake by the glass and bottle, specialty cocktails, full bar.

Price range: Appetizers, $9 to $11; soups, $7 to $10; salads, $5 to $9; dinner entrees, $14 to $18; lunch entrees, $9 to $14; satays, $3 to $7; small plates, $8 to $13.

Extras: Patio under a canopy of trees and perched practically at creek level is one of the valley's best al fresco dining spots in fine weather; located just off Ashland Plaza; 18-percent gratuity for parties of eight or more; no separate checks.

Serving: Dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday only; Satay Bar open daily from 5 p.m. to midnight.

Info: 84 N. Main St., Ashland; 541-482-8058; www.thaipepper-kobe.com.