Thistle (McMinnville, Oregon): The Best of Oregon

There have been many questions since the return to New York following a short book tour and road trip, idyllic and beautiful, along the lush green coast of the Pacific Northwest.

The burning question hasn’t been, “How did your readings go?” Mind you. Rather, the first question that slips out as soon as politely possible is: “OK, where did you eat?”

This being a somewhat book-centric trip — thank you Seattle and Portland for organizing such lovely A Tiger in the Kitchen soirees! — the time for restaurant-hopping wasn’t plenty. Among the several restaurants I did sample, though, one firmly sunk its chompers in me and hasn’t let go: Thistle, a deliciously charming little spot in McMinnville, Oregon, that manages to out-Brooklyn the wave of recent trendy Brooklyn restaurants branding themselves as farm-to-table havens.

After raving like a lunatic about this Oregon restaurant that that serves up amazing hyper-locavore Americana — all made with ingredients from neighboring farms (and a co-owner’s mom’s garden sometimes) — that could put many of its big-city counterparts to shame, I felt a little vindicated yesterday when I learned that The Oregonian had named Thistle its 2011 Restaurant of the Year (in the entire state of Oregon) this week. As soon as the smug joy subsided, however, I needed a Thistle fix.

So, out came the photos and the reverie began…

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Ciano: A Night to Remember


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The idea had been to have dinner, plain and simple.

No thinking about writing about the dishes as we're eating. No scribbling of notes. No blogging. This was a celebration, after all. There should be no room at the table for work of any sort.

But the moment our food started arriving, the game plan changed. Ciano, the much-anticipated new restaurant by Shea Gallante (who greatly impressed critics and diners at the now-shuttered Cru, where he earned three stars from The New York Times' Frank Bruni), pretty much had me at shrimp balls.

From my first nibble of rock shrimp polpette ($8 for five), the deliciously warm one-inch balls stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, I was hooked. Out came the paper and pen and off we were …

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Colicchio & Sons: Super-Rich Locavore


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Unless you’ve been in deep hibernation, if you live in New York and have been known to consume food, you’ve probably noticed that Tom Colicchio opened a new restaurant in Manhattan last week.

The breathless chatter over Colicchio & Sons in the Meatpacking District has been inescapable since the “Top Chef” judge announced that he was turning his ailing Craftsteak space into a locavore joint with a comfort food bent. (The restaurant is an offshoot of Colicchio’s popular Tom: Tuesday Dinner, a weekly 32-seat event in which Tom himself put together a $150 to $200 meal made with of-the-season ingredients.)

Now, being a big lover of red meat — even if I wasn’t exactly a fan of the concept of Craftsteak’s $100 steaks — I’m always a little morose whenever a steakhouse shutters.

If its replacement is a worthy one, however, that’s another matter.

We decided to investigate …

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East Side Social Club: Not Quite Monkey Bar Lite


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“Let’s meet here,” I had said, noting an Eater.com post that called the new East Side Social Club “a sleek sexy spot for the Monkey Bar rejects.”

My “been everywhere” friend Bob’s immediate response? “I never get rejected at the Monkey Bar.”

Good point.

Even so, East Side Social Club held some intrigue. Opened by Billy Gilroy (owner of Macao and Employees Only), with celebrity photographer Patrick McMullen as an investor and Devon Gilroy, who’s clocked time at Chanterelle and A Voce, helming the kitchen, the restaurant had generated plenty of buzz well before its doors officially opened last week.

The menu was designed to be Italian, with some modern American dishes with a locavore bent tossed in. And the cocktails, given Papa Gilroy’s other establishments, promised to be interesting.

We had no big complaints about either, really — the price and the ambience, however, were another matter altogether.

If you’re expecting anything like the fashionable, genteel comfort of modern supper clubs like Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar, you’re going to be a little disappointed.

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