Monday, September 21, 2009

Ashland: Favorite Things

We find, especially for trips of more than a few days, that we prefer the vacation rental option. B&Bs can be beautiful and are usually run by delightful folks, but breakfast at an appointed (and usually too early) hour is not my idea of vacation; nor is conversation before I’ve had my quart of coffee. Hotel rooms aren’t roomy enough on long trips for two writers and their computers, notebooks, and bags of books; they’re too expensive; we don’t need daily housekeeping service; and we like to have a kitchen.

In our five-year search for just the right thing, we haven’t had a bad experience yet. However, we also haven’t stayed at the same place twice, for one reason or another (such as those in the paragraph above). That’s about to change.

We found the Terra Cottage Inn on, listing 65608. Mark and Elizabeth are gracious hosts. They actually have two rentals on their large corner lot with beautiful gardens and a well-equipped outdoor kitchen in the middle. The structures are detached – Mark and Elizabeth’s home, the two rentals, Mark’s art studio and Elizabeth’s pottery studio – so there’s as much quiet and privacy as you want. If you venture out in the gardens to grab a hammock or chaise lounge they’re usually around for some friendly conversation and helpful advice about local restaurants and the neighborhood before you settle in for a book or nap. The Terra Cottage Inn is a two-bed, one-bath apartment over the garages, and it’s scrupulously clean and very tastefully furnished with lots of special touches like Mark’s paintings, Elizabeth’s pottery, fine soaps, plush spa robes, coffee beans for the first day, and a welcoming plate of fruit and chocolate. We’ve already made our reservations for next year, this time for the slightly larger High Street Cottage, vrbo listing 114242. No kids/pets (another plus from our point of view; we do enjoy the quiet). It’s in a lovely neighborhood north of the theatre, just a ten minute walk to the creek, park, and plaza.

As always there was good eating in Ashland. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I am devoted to it. We tried several places this time and settled on Greenleaf as our favorite. Breakfast is hard to screw up, but it became the favorite for their creekside outdoor seating, reasonable portions and healthy options, and reliable service (meaning, my coffee cup was usually full). Bonus: they are also a deli, so we can take home what we need for coffee service and snacks.

After five years we have settled on two favorite restaurants that will always get our trade, usually two or three times during our week’s stay. Liquid Assets Wine Bar has a fun concept. Even with reservations you’re usually invited to make yourself comfortable anywhere you like…which might be in a couch by a low table, or at one of the small bistro size tables scattered around, or perhaps two of them pulled together. They have an extensive list of wines by the glass and you can make our own flight or go with their suggestions. If you drink bottles, as we do, you walk over to the corner where they have shelves of wine retail-style, pick your bottle (they are knowledgeable and happy to help), pay the retail and a very reasonable corkage, and they pour it for you in nice big beautiful crystal glasses. The menu is one short page long, and that’s all it needs to be because it’s all good. Everything is sharable, and don’t miss the sautéed wild mushrooms, beef tartare, salad nicoise, pasta Bolognese with ragu of wild boar, duck pate, or “taste of Spain” plate full of Marcona almonds, quince paste, chorizo, manchego, romesco, and olives – just a few of my favorite things.

The second restaurant we love, and one of our top restaurants anywhere, is the Peerless, consistently fine over the five years we’ve been visiting Ashland. The setting is gorgeous; we usually eat in their very elegant and romantically lit garden among beautiful landscaping and sculpture next to a formal fountain. The food is outstanding; creative preparations of the finest local ingredients without being pretentious or trendy or weird. A year or two ago they modified their menu to mostly small plates (ok, that’s trendy, but it’s a trend that I hope sticks), keeping menu favorites and adding more specials and variety. Favorites are lamb meatballs, duck breast, duck-confit-stuffed dates, squash gnocchi, clams with chorizo. I like my vegetables and they do a great job of accompanying these small plates with perfectly prepared complements, and the chef’s choice vegetable plate is wonderful. But what really shows Chef Mark Carter’s yummy food off at its best is the service. The Peerless has the highest standards for professional table service. Our servers are always knowledgeable about everything on the menu and the extensive wine list. And they have the art of perfect timing and listening, recognizing and encouraging our enthusiasm for good food and wine, and always getting us to the theater on time. An off-hand comment from me led to our server, Angie, and the kitchen putting together an impromptu cheese plate for the end of our meal one day this week. Angie also directed us to our wine of the week, Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir. On the big side for a Pinot Noir, more black fruit than red, with some of that wonderful Pinot Noir earthiness.

On the way back to the theater you pass Zoey’s Café, doing most of its business as an ice cream counter. I’m not much of a dessert person, except for maybe a fine chocolate late at night. But I think I ate as much sugar on this trip as I usually do in a month because of the Oregon Bing Cherry ice cream. Oh. My. God.

The inventory at local bookstores is a little lighter for me having come through; I think I purchased enough to affect our gas mileage on the way home.

One of my cat Archie’s favorite things is a particular toy mouse I got at the little shop Prize last year. This is the toy he carries around and brings to me when he needs attention/food or maybe in his little kitty brain imagines I need attention/food (usually 4:30 a.m.). The yarn is almost completely unwound from it, so I got a couple more this year to last until next year’s trip—just one year from today.

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