Ashland, Oregon, November 18, 2011—SNOW ON THE PASS — just enough to make us take it slow and easy on the way down; then an hour or two of rest in the cheap motel; then the fabulous dinner. I've written many times before about Charlene Rollins and New Sammy's: it's one of the Five Restaurants; she's a genius of the kitchen. (Vern, her husband, has mellowed into a fine host; the restaurant bears his stamp as much as hers.)
Tonight, though, I realized at the end of the evening that she is not only peerless as a maîtresse de la braise, not only impeccable as a chooser of ingredients; she is something even more rare, a chef as perfectly suited to pastry as she is to savory. Intelligence, a subtle but fully trained hand, a gifted sense of taste both physical and imaginative, and a keen interest in research unite in this woman, one of the most well-balanced, enthusiastic, and egoless geniuses I've met anywhere.
Well, shucks, she might well say at this point, and what did she do for us tonight? We started with the green salad energized with broccoli flowerets, then went on to Anaheim peppers filled with salt cod brandade and served on a bed of pumpkin purée, lifted with discreet pimenton.
From there Lindsey moved on to quail, but I couldn't resist the local lamb chops, succulent, cooked just to the rare degree I wanted, again lifted with a generous but not overwhelming touch of smoky pimento, and surrounded by a bed of braised vegetables: carrot, sweet potato, onion, kale. I could have sworn I was in Spain. ¡Sabroso!
We had desserts, of course: gingerbread with apples and chestnut-honey ice cream for Lindsey, pecan torte served in thin slices, a sort of Spanish twist on panforte da Siena, with salt-caramel ice cream for me — a truly delicious, memorable dessert.
Champagne: Drappier, nonvintage (creamy bubbles, nicely dry); Bordeaux, Chateaux Chabiran,2008 (modest but fully achieved, opening well with the food); Zinfandel, Sausal Creek (Alexander Valley)• New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, Oregon; (541) 535-2779