Story by MJ CODY • Photos by ALEX PAJUNAS
What could be better than a visit to some of the best Columbia-Pacific restaurants featuring exceptional chefs who use locally sourced food?
To be sure, these chefs deserve the accolades, but we rarely consider that there’s someone else helping to create that truly special dining experience. Sometimes it can take two – or more.
The Depot, Seaview, Washington / Michael Lalewicz & Nancy Gorshe
The Depot / 1208 38th Place, Seaview, Washington / 360-642-7880 / depotrestaurantdining.com
Nancy Gorshe is all smiles as she guides my sister, Sue, and me to our table. It is obvious this is someone who loves her job. Well, her life. “It never feels like work,” says Nancy – even after 10 years of sharing responsibilities in the award-winning restaurant with her husband, executive chef Michael Lalewicz.
“It works,” she says, “because we have the division: He’s not interested in the business end or the marketing and personal relations, and I can’t do what he does.”
What he does is create fabulous food.
At the Chef’s Table, we ogle the Dungeness Crab Mac and racks of lamb from our close-up view of Michael, master of the grill, through the open window.
For us, there’s escargot oysters – the garlicky, melt-in-your-mouth morsels still sizzling in melted butter – followed by the delectable Thai Calamari: wild calamari tossed in Thai peanut cilantro sauce and topped with crispy wontons.
Next comes our caught-that-morning salmon sauced with locally foraged shiitake mushrooms and grass-fed filet mignon topped with umami sauce. We barely can face our pot de crème and flourless chocolate torte. Somehow, we manage.
“Michael was an adventurous cook, and I was a hobbyist foodie, so we enjoyed having dinner parties in our home,” says Nancy.
After Michael’s success at Jimmy Mak’s (Portland’s famous jazz club) and the Shelburne Inn and a long healthcare career for Nancy, the couple decided to open their own restaurant.
“Here we are after all these years, having a dinner party every night!” says Nancy.
Firehouse Grill, Seaside, Oregon / Bob & Lori Breslauer
Firehouse Grill / 841 Broadway, Seaside, Oregon / 503-717-5502
I’m savoring my flaky homemade biscuit and Potatoes Deluxe, a mélange of grilled potatoes, house-made sausage, mushrooms, pesto, spinach, jack cheese, and any-way-you-want-them eggs on top (poached perfect).
The small café is filling up rapidly, and I offer to share my booth with a couple standing in line at the door. They decline. Instead, they prefer to wait for a seat at the counter. “So we can watch Bob,” the woman says.
That’s how it is here at Seaside’s Firehouse Grill. Bob’s the celebrity, happy and friendly, busy as can be, sweating over the grill, center stage. At just over 1.5 years old, the word is out after the restaurant snagged a national mention in Urbanspoon’s 101 Great Breakfasts.
“I’m happy that Bob still loves the frenzy of cooking,” says Lori Breslauer, who spent 23 years sharing the cooking chores with her husband at their Bainbridge Island, Wash., restaurant and bed & breakfast inn on Orcas Island before moving to Seaside.
“I have no desire to be on the line anymore. I’m happy to run the business behind the scenes: the ordering and management. Off-hours I prepare the soups. I love the variety, and it’s nice here when it’s quiet.
“After so many years in the business, this time we’re keeping it simple,” Lori says. A limited menu doesn’t mean a limited palate. This is simple food at its best, whether savory egg and biscuit dishes or house-ground burgers and fish tacos: down-home good, fresh, simply delicious.
Newmans at 988 and Fishes Sushi & Japanese Cuisine
Cannon Beach, Oregon / John & Sandy Newman
Newmans at 988 / 988 S. Hemlock St. / 503-436-1151 / www.newmansat988.com
Fishes Sushi & Japanese Cuisine / 240 N. Hemlock St. / 503-436-8862 / www.fishes-sushi.com
John Newman embellishes the seared scallops with a flourish of sautéed mushrooms, prepares to perfection his to-die-for foie gras pasta with Oregon black truffles, and plates the lobster ravioli.
The appetizers arrive, hot off the grill, for my friends and me to swoon over and devour.
There are Dungeness crab cakes too, one of the few of their kind that actually retain the delicate flavor of crab.
A master chef nuanced in French and Italian cuisines, John has earned enough awards to sink a small dingy. Always community-minded, John is proud of lending a hand to Seaside High School students who placed first in the Oregon ProStart High School Culinary Championships.
“John’s the star,” says Sandy Newman. “I married the business.” Sandy was a journalism major in college and knew little about food. When John was working nights, she began hostessing in a small family-owned restaurant near their home in the San Francisco Bay area.
“I learned everything, from fronting the house to serving and catering. Everything I know about the business started there,” says Sandy, not thinking at the time where it might lead.
Sandy has put her experience to good use. Their partnership has been ongoing for 10 years, and, as if they weren’t busy enough with their award-winning 988, they opened Fishes Sushi & Japanese Cuisine in the center of town. “The pressure, the intensity, the heat of the kitchen – I don’t know how he does it,” Sandy says.
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doesn’t know how Sandy does it either.
The Blue Scorcher, Astoria, Oregon
Blue Scorcher Bakery Café / 1493 Duane St., Astoria, Oregon / 503-338-7473 / www.bluescorcher.com
Loren Cross, Sam Jones, Karmen Hughes, Brandon Sears and Tyrrel Trainor
“One for all and all for one!” It’s an apt refrain for the Three Musketeers or this nine-member owner-worker collective whose artisan breads, pastries and handcrafted seasonal foods have set a high bar.
Officially, the husband-and-wife team of Joe Garrison and Iris Sullivan Daire were the former owners, but it’s always been a cooperative enterprise featuring totally organic, local, sustainable food.
“As a vegetarian restaurant, we do remarkable things,” says Loren Cross, one of five rotating chefs at the café, who is chopping wild chanterelle mushrooms handpicked in the woods and delivered this morning.
Loren isn’t kidding. The breads, pastries and desserts alone are enough to make one dizzy with desire. Then there are the hearty soups, daily specials and the always-interesting salads (the quinoa or arugula salads are favorites).
The Provence Scramble this day (eggs, chanterelles, house-made pesto and jack cheese accompanied by fresh local greens) is pure pleasure. A tempeh reuben? You’ll be surprised how good it is.
The menu is diverse and whimsical: How about the Poet’s Bowl (beans & rice) or the Published Poet’s Bowl (beans & rice and the works – salsa, cheddar cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds and mixed greens)?
It’s all about community. The collective strives to support each other in joyful work as well as support local farmers and foragers. The café also provides a meeting place for the locals. Service can be inconsistent, but hey, the atmosphere is always cheerful and friendly, there’s a kid’s area, racks of magazines to peruse, and the food never fails.