I was lucky enough to celebrate my birthday for another weekend. I’m surrounded by good people. Andrew surprised me with a weekend trip to McMinnville, Oregon to basically eat and drink my way through the town. McMinnville is home to a sweet little downtown surrounded by a whole lotta wine country and farms. We stayed at Third Street Flats right downtown. There are 11 of them, each with their own theme. We stayed in the 11th Flat, their noir flat. Apparently he really wanted number four, which was booked, but 11 was incredible. The only thing four could have beat it on is the view since it overlooked Third Street. The 11th faced away. If you follow me on Instagram, you already know kind of what it looks like. Since neither one of us took a legit camera, phone photos are all I have. I’m a sucker for the wood floors and exposed brick. The kitchen was open, had floating shelves, and an island. Want. Want. Want.
After wandering the main street and checking out the shops in their quaint historic district, which was totally decked out for Christmas, we settled in for dinner. We ate at La Rambla Restaurant & Bar for northwest inspired Spanish tapas. There wasn’t a bad thing on the menu and the service was absolutely on point. It’s slow season, so while we made a reservation, we didn’t need one. We actually went in early since it was really slow and my stomach begging for some food. I started off with their house sangria while we ate the pork migas and stuffed piquillo peppers. I could have eaten four more plates of each. The “small” plates were way bigger than I was expecting. The various types of pork were super tender, and the chunks of bread soaked up every bit of the juice. The bread actually made the dish for me. The piquillo peppers were stuffed with saffron rice and chicken and smothered in a nutty, cheesy cream sauce. I switched to a really nice pinot noir while stuffing ourselves on lamb nachos, sautéed shrimp in a Calabrian chili oil, and sautéed green beans with hazelnuts and Valdeón blue cheese. The lamb nachos were a trip — thinly sliced sweet potatoes, topped with ground lamb and more Valdeón blue cheese. The shrimp were about as perfect as you could get them. That Calabrian chili oil though! Green beans love some blue cheese. That’s not something I would have thought of before but definitely will now. We finished off the night with a thin, bright sherry and a citrus flan with espresso caramel. Like I said, the server was fantastic. He brought us a hand-written list of wineries with our check. All of his recommendations that night were really great. It was actually hard not to go back for the second night; the food was that good.
We started Saturday off at the Red Fox Bakery for some coffee and a breakfast snack. Our sights were set on a big lunch to set us off on wine tasting for the day, so a light breakfast was in order. Red Fox is known for their breads and sandwiches, but there wouldn’t be time since they were closed on Sunday. A simple Americano made with Illy espresso and their house specialty coconut macaroon for me; a dry cappuccino and quiche for him. That macaroon was crazy good. It was larger than most macaroons I’ve had, like a muffin top, and had a softer, more dense texture. The coconut morphed into an almost toasted marshmallow flavor when baked. I dunked mine in the coffee. I highly suggest that. Lunch was a BBQ feast at Ribslayer BBQ, which was right across the street from our flat, but hidden in an alley. It was hands down the best BBQ I’ve had since Kansas City. A deliciously charred burnt ends sando for him; a meaty Mofo sandwich for me. Their Mofo sandwich takes their pulled pork and tops it with their brisket and housemade BBQ on a slightly crunchy, soft-yet-sturdy roll. It handles the BBQ with ease and balances that meat-to-bread ratio well. That meat was so subtly smokey, and super tender. Their BBQ sauce is tangy and addicting. They had others for purchase, but it made sense to use what they serve up. It was a filling sandwich. Perfect for preparing someone for an afternoon of tasting.
Tasting started with Seven of Hearts/Luminous Hills in Carlton, Oregon. It’s a little bit north of McMinnville, but hardly a trek. Their wines were really, really fantastic. All kinds of old world varietals in a very easy-to-digest atmosphere. It’s not snooty at all, and has an in-house chocolate shop! The owner and wine-maker Byron chatted with us while he poured. It’s all very generous from the number of tastes to answering a bunch of questions to the bits of chocolate to pair with certain wines. It was a seriously great time. We walked out of there nearly members, but instead with a bottle of Roussanne [a white] and Grenache [a red]. Carlton’s little main street has that same historic charm and is chock-full of tasting rooms, but we only did that one tasting before heading back out for another winery in a different part of the area. Maysara Winery is heavy on the pinot noir and prides themselves on their Biodynamic farming practices. We headed here because of the pinot I had the night before at La Rambla. It was pretty awesome, and I’m not usually a huge pinot fan. The rest of their line up was only okay for my tastes, but the grounds and tasting room were gorgeous. The tasting room is relatively new and had a cavernous, rustic feel. They were so slow, making us their only visitors of the day. Getting there was really a drive out into the country on some dirt roads. If it weren’t for some tiny signs, I’d have had no idea where we were going. We headed back into town for one final tasting since my tastebuds tend to give up after three. The third and final stop was Remy Wines. The Remy label is for her single vineyard Italian varietals and the Three Wives label is for anything else that suits her fancy and doesn’t fall into that category. You know I’m a sucker for Italian varietals. We tasted their Lagrein, which I don’t think I had until that moment. It’s super rare to be grown in the US. It was lovely. The second was their ridiculously affordable red blend — sangiovese, barbera, and dolcetto. You hardly ever see a bottle of red for $19 at a winery. It was a great, easy drinker. The stars of the show for me was their sangiovese, which was unbelievably fruity, and their barbera, which ages for an unbelievable amount of time in the barrel. I would have had no idea it was a sangiovese if you hadn’t told me. It was totally approachable from the first sip. I feel like sangiovese is usually a bit of an acquired tasted if you didn’t drink it regularly, but this would please many people. The barbera is hands-down the best barbera I’ve ever had. That extra time in the barrel does incredible things to the wine. It really makes for a rich flavor. It’s a beautiful wine. We also got to taste some of the dessert wine made out of barbera grapes. It’s almost port-like, but still tastes like barbera. It was stunning. The wine did not disappoint this trip.
The final dinner of the trip wasn’t La Rambla, even though we were so tempted to go back for more. We headed to Thistle, a farm to table kind of spot. The menu rotates often and is written on a chalkboard when you first walk in. The whole meal kicked ass much like the previous night. Amazing service and even more amazing food. I knew immediately it would be another meat heavy night, so I let our server pick some wines. We started with a glass of gamay with the rabbit rillet and steak tartare. The quality of meat here is no joke. I fell in love with the rabbit on first bite. It was served in a little mason jar, had a delicious fatty top, and tenderly spread on every bite of bread. The tartare was some of the best I’d had. Again, I could have gone for three rounds of just this alone. The mains were lamb medallions on top of slightly sweet polenta in an addictive sauce and slices of rare+ beef on top of sautéed cabbage, blue cheese, and roasted potatoes. It was a great with the glass of cabernet franc. It was hard to pick favorite main. Probably the beef, if only because of it’s tangy notes. Savory always trumps sweet for me. We finished up the meal with a gin and parsnip cake and a meyer lemon panna cotta topped with berries and hazelnuts. I couldn’t decide on a dessert so Andrew picked both. What a gentleman. In the end, I think the cake won me over. The gin was a lovely aromatic element to the cake.
This morning we stopped into Community Plate, Thistle’s sister restaurant for a little breakfast before heading back home. It was a cozy, rustic place. The menu was simple. The coffee good. I had a simple bowl with a tender biscuit and housemade sausage gravy. The gravy was heavenly. I should have used a spoon. Andrew had the pork hash, and I just now realized I never got a bite. The horror.
And now that I’ve written a novel, I really just want to sum up that McMinnville was awesome. There was so much more food I wanted to eat, wine I wanted to drink, and walking around I wanted to do. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of this great little town. It’s so close to Portland, and I’d never been in all my life. That’ll change now. It’s an easy day trip, but making a point to stay somewhere in-town was so much fun. A mini vacation. A delicious one. Andrew knows me well. That was a great way to celebrate.