August 22, 2007

New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro [Oregon]

New Sammy's is one of those destination restaurants that you put on your itinerary if you just so happen to be in the area. Located off a strip of highway between Medford and Ashland in Oregon, its one of the few, if not only reasons, you'd have for stopping in the little town of Talent.

We arrived 10 minutes early for our reservation and took that opportunity to explore the gardens (that grew in leaps and bounds around the restaurant) that propagated the grounds surrounding the restaurant. I don't know when the remodel kicked in, but New Sammy's is no longer the shack in the middle of nowhere that even your GPS couldn't be able to locate. It's new terra cotta pink exterior with a hard-to-miss sign is only matched by warm dining room that's still a work in progress.

We were served two different amuses along with our bowl of olives and hearty cowboy bread. The white gazpacho with creme fraiche was delicate and everything an amuse should be: delicious, intriguing, while leaving you begging for more. The smoked sturgeon was successful in wholly-built mouthfuls (with a little melon, fig, and farro), but mediocre in and of itself.

Soft-cooked eggs are always a welcome surprise, so when I saw it featured on the nightly prix-fixe dinner menu ($42), I decided to be in the mood for salad, trout, and dessert. However, I chose to swap appetizers with my SO who ordered the Corn Custard on my behalf. Bitter lettuces and crunchy endive created the backdrop for the corn, which was made sweeter, creamier, and colder by its foils. While the salad was also accented by prosciutto and hazelnuts, the real stunner were the fresh blueberries that studded my every bite.

I never thought of the blueberry as a sensual fruit, but these little tarts were plump, juicy, and ripe for the picking. They gleamed like bright sapphires, quivered at my bite, and awakened taste buds in my mouth that made me blush. This is garden cuisine at its finest.

My fillet of trout was butterflied and set atop a bed of vegetables and mushrooms. The combination of oyster mushrooms, lobster mushrooms, and shitake was mature and while subtly earthy, did not make up for the lack of salt in the dish. The contrast of the Meyer lemon-fennel sauce would have really made the flavors pop, but had I not consulted the menu, I wouldn't have even realized it was there. There were pillows of gnocchi so fluffy that I mistook them for unsweetened marshmallows--interesting texturally, but bland on all other counts.

The Niman Ranch NY Strip ($38) was a good quality steak on fragrant smoked potatoes, though the squash was too mushy.

Desserts were most tempting of all, with a menu skewed towards seasonal fruits and berries. We settled on a frozen tayberry sherbert and almond torte accompanied by a blackberry sherbert. The sharp tartness of the berries were amplified by the dish's coldness. It was one of the best desserts I've had in a long while and there was plenty to go around.

Charlene and Vernon Rollins are the power couple behind the kitchen and wine list and hail from Northern California's own Boonville. Charlene works her magic with the food, while Vernon acts as the sommelier. After we ordered, he made a personal appearance at our table to recommend pairings. I hear that the restaurant carries rare vintages and unique blends, but my alcohol tolerance rarely allows me to finish a glass, let a lone a bottle.

I love the idea of eating food straight from the source--like the dinner that your mom prepares using the tomatoes from your backyard. With the remodel underway, I only hope that the homey stop doesn't lose its soul. Eat local--eating is believing.

New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro
2210 South Pacific Highway
Talent, OR 97520
(541) 535-2779


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