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Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden wins with its ‘locals special’

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Anchovy fritters top the Caesar salad at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photos by Sarah Lemon
The “Artis’s Special,” foreground, and “Sleigh Ride” are craft cocktails at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Bread pudding was a recent dessert choice on the "locals special” menu at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photos by Sarah Lemon
A fish burger was a recent entree choice on the "locals special” menu at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Anchovy fritters top the Caesar salad at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Shrimp pasta was a recent entree choice on the "locals special” menu at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photos by Sarah Lemon

Restaurants around the region, particularly Ashland, will surely revel in the day dedicated to romance.

Fudging the holiday has its merits, however, when a special-occasion meal can be had for a special price. Sunday and Monday evenings at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden are for locals — or any diner who loves discreetly promoted deals. Paying just $28 for the restaurant’s three-course “locals special” preserves plenty in the pocketbook for other indulgences.

Indulgent cocktails are among Hearsay’s calling cards. For the cold season, heavier liquors like bourbon, brandy and cognac — accented with warming spices — reign over the menu.

For its intriguing duo of bourbon and Amontillado sherry, I ordered the “Artist Special” ($14). Although its seasonal appeal is waning, the “Sleigh Ride” ($14) with cranberry juice, ginger, vodka and a sugar rim pleased my partner.

Delicious is a term I don’t usually apply to drinks, but mine was exactly that. Mindfully trying to slow my first greedy gulps to small sips, I only wished it had been twice the size.

Portions are just right for each “locals special” course. It’s one of the few fine-dining meals I’ve eaten over the past year that doesn’t compel me to weigh appetizers against dessert. To be fair, this menu’s starters section affords soup du jour or one of two salads. But we couldn’t have been more content with our choices.

Hearsay had me at “anchovy fritters.” I typically dismiss Caesar salads as being a kitchen’s cop-out, for all their popularity. The dish rarely reflects the seasons and usually plays on my palate just one note. But Hearsay’s version replaces romaine with baby gem lettuce and conjures lighter-than-air fritters from the oily essence of anchovy. This focal point of the restaurant’s regularly priced salad ($8 for small, $15 for large) adds significant interest to the “locals special.”

Practically powerless to pass up chowder, my partner nearly swooned for its salmon. He solicitously asked whether I would prefer to sample the day’s vegetarian soup — borscht. Although the beet-laden brew almost always meets with my approval, it simply can’t compete against salmon chowder.

More seafood was in store with my entrée selection of shrimp pasta and my partner’s choice of the fish burger, priced at $16 on the regular menu. Other main-course options were a 6-ounce sirloin steak with Parmesan fries and a vegetarian spinach pesto pasta with grilled, mixed vegetables.

Both starters arrived generously garnished — mine with freshly grated Parmesan, my partner’s with fresh, flat-leaf parsley. I appreciated the drizzle of dressing on my salad’s lettuce rather than the tossed coating that overpowers most Caesars. The greens that prompted me to recall Hearsay’s wedge as one of the best salads of 2020 were just as effective chopped for this dish.

Since that visit, Hearsay has promoted Leticia Lujan to executive chef. A native of Ashland’s sister city, Guanajuato, Mexico, Lujan has lived and worked in the Rogue Valley for more than a decade merging her background in Mexican cuisine with French techniques.

I can’t wait to see more of Lujan’s innovations, given the perfection of her anchovy fritters. Resembling delicate doughnut holes, these crispy spheres imploded in the mouth, releasing a breath of savory steam, followed by a tender chew. Cut in half, the fritters lose their impact. Just open up for one, big bite.

A small cup, my partner’s chowder was easily finished in a few spoonfuls. The flavors were rich and briny without verging on fishy. I found the diced carrots a little distracting, but they did add body and color.

Bright, crisp produce accompanied his fish burger, consisting of two fingers of beer-battered cod on a pillowy bun swabbed with homemade tartar sauce. The hearty portion of fresh-cut fries would have a been a fine side. But Hearsay added a lightly dressed, Asian-inspired slaw.

Numbering five, my dish’s wild-caught shrimp also seemed well-appointed lounging on their bed of richly sauced linguine. Dubbed a “creamy shallot reduction,” the sauce — while decadent — wasn’t particularly distinctive. Squeezing on lemon from two large wedges lightened the flavor profile, also assisted with the tangle of scallion greens transformed into fine threads. The delicate acid note of Kriselle Cellars sauvignon blanc ($8 per glass) nicely complemented the pasta.

Neither fritters nor pasta could dampen my enthusiasm for more carbohydrates as bread pudding. Hearsay’s dessert was studded with fresh pear and daintily dressed in caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Given the choice of cherry sorbet or lemon ice cream, my partner chose the latter. Although the pale, unadorned scoop wasn’t much to look at, the ice cream’s punchy flavor stopped just short of lemon’s pucker. We followed bites with the subtly flavored bread pudding, its crumb and custard homogenized into a nearly cohesive texture resembling cake, which defied my partner’s long-held notion of day-old crusts turned sweet treat.

Wooed not just by a bargain but Hearsay’s commendable quality and conscientious presentation, we left flushed with renewed affection for this locals’ darling. Located at 40 S. First St., under Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Hearsay is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

Hearsay’s “locals special” is not available Monday, Feb. 14, when a Valentine’s Day menu is planned. Reserve at hearsayashland.com or call 541-625-0505.

Tempo Tidbits

Show your love with locally baked, gluten-free goodies.

Heart-shaped brownies and chocolate chip cookies, drizzled in white and dark chocolate, are available by advance order from Organicos Bakery in Phoenix. Studded with raspberries, the dark chocolate brownie costs $20, and the cookie costs $18. Each is sized to feed six to eight people.

Orders must be placed before 5 p.m. Thursday for in-store or curbside pickup Saturday or Sunday, Feb. 12 and 13. Order at organicosbakery.square.site

Using brown rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch in its cookies and brownies, Organicos specializes in vegan, gluten-free baked goods with organic ingredients. The bakery’s breads, buns and pastries are available at local farmers markets and grocers.

Organicos is at 4495 S. Pacific Highway No. 420. Hours are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, or until products sell out. Fresh pastries, savories and sourdough only are available Tuesdays and on weekends.

See organicosbakery.com. Email organicosbakery@gmail.com or call 541-944-1473.

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Chocolate is the theme for a local contest open to all artists.

Ashland’s Golden Grove Collective is organizing the event inspired by the Oregon Chocolate Festival, March 4-6. The festival resumed in-person gatherings this year after 2021’s virtual experiences. See oregonchocolatefestival.com

Art contest finalists will be displayed during Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk March 4 at Golden Grove,

342 Lithia Way. Visitors will vote for their favorites, and the winner will receive a Golden Grove gift card. The retail and workshop space specializes in locally made goods and thrifted clothing. See goldengroveshop.com

Open to all ages, media and styles, contest entries are due Feb. 28. Submit in person at the shop, through email with a photo and brief description or over Instagram @goldengroveshop. Pieces will be on display throughout the month of March.

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Wines promote sustainable practices at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland.

The farm-to-table restaurant last week redefined its wine list, on which a half-dozen designations direct diners’ selections. Acknowledging that many of the region’s small, family-owned vineyards and wineries do not commit to certifications, Larks does not require that formality. All wines are tasted and hand-selected by a certified sommelier, said restaurant manager and sommelier Molly Shaughnessy.

Icons on Larks new wine list denote organic farming without certification, certified organic in the wine’s country of origin, biodynamic without certification, Demeter certified biodynamic, Napa Green certified and certification in Low Input Viticulture and Enology.

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.