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Top-notch cuisine and service at Loft in Ashland

Perched in a second-story space overlooking Ashland Creek, Loft American Brasserie & Bar is a high point in the town’s restaurant landscape.

Devising a plan for top-notch cuisine and service, then consistently executing it, is the tricky part of owning a restaurant. That’s the opinion of industry experts quoted in a recent newspaper story about some of the region’s best eateries. Loft owners Jacqueline and Jeremy Vidalo have more than proven their business savvy — and mettle — over the past six years by meeting patrons’ expectations while adding brunch and a new dining area.

We celebrated a friend’s December birthday in Loft’s lounge, expanded in 2014. Seats by the restaurant’s fireplace would have been cozier, but the banquette built into the lounge’s expansive bay window nicely framed the guest of honor’s festive attire. The vantage overlooks Loft’s well-appointed deck, open in warm weather.

A warm cocktail beckoned on the cold night, but I requested a St. Germain 75. My husband, Will, couldn’t resist the Lost Mule, Loft’s play on the Moscow classic with a house-made blueberry shrub and fresh mint.

The starter menu featured two reliable favorites: the charcuterie plate ($16) and escargot ($10), back after a season’s hiatus. I grinned when one of our friends ordered the tarte Lyonnaise ($12) and hoped he might part with a bite.

I ordered a frisee salad ($12), another dish I’m hard-pressed to pass up. In similarly predictable fashion, Will selected the seafood bouillabaisse ($28). I chose the day-boat sea scallops ($29), not least for its promise of sunchoke risotto, fried parsnips and saffron-butter sauce.

Making good on her husband’s prediction, the birthday girl ordered the brasserie burger ($16) and kale Caesar salad ($11). The server gamely clarified her request for all the burger toppings — even bacon — on the side, leaving just white cheddar touching the half-pound beef patty and brioche bun.

The burger found favor with another of our friends, while the scallops appealed to his wife. I admired our remaining friend’s choice of the truffle macaroni and cheese ($26), which I bypassed only because the gratin’s Dungeness crab wasn’t fresh from Oregon’s still-closed commercial fishery.

Pacific mussels are among Loft’s menu mainstays, and one that we rarely skip. But I commended my husband’s preference for the charcuterie when he heard that lamb pate and rabbit rillettes accompanied duck-liver mousse. Complemented by pickled vegetables and plenty of toasted baguette, each item was superb.

The escargot, drowning in Pernod-spiked garlic butter, was a textbook rendition of this French bistro classic. With its toothsome morsels of house-smoked, thick-cut bacon, and perfectly poached egg, the frisee salad delivered all the texture, savor and richness expected from this dish, popularized over the past few years. An impeccably creamy egg custard, accented with goat cheese and awash in caramelized onions, also recommended the tarte.

My risotto’s creaminess was offset with roasted root vegetables. We all appreciated the generous allowance of five scallops (three seems to be standard, four an ample portion). I only wished they’d been seared a tad more on the exterior, and the accompanying parsnips chips had lent a bit more crunch.

No quibble could be found with Will’s bouillabaisse, an array of scallops, prawns, mussels, clams and white fish in a tomato-fennel broth. Even more aromatic was the searing-hot macaroni casserole, enriched with bacon in addition to the crab.

More decadence should have been in store, if not for our plans to enjoy dessert with a show at Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Loft tempts even the fullest bellies and leanest pocketbooks with its petite desserts, miniature portions of chocolate truffles, ice cream and a single profiterole, each for just $3.50.

Located at 18 Calle Guanajuato Way, Loft is open from 5 p.m. until close Wednesday through Monday. Call 541-482-1116 or see www.loftashland.com.

Sarah Lemon

Sea scallops with sunchoke risotto, fried parsnips and saffron-butter sauce at Loft American Brasserie & Bar. Mail Tribune / Sarah Lemon