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Review from Southern Oregon Restaurants
by Hadley Nesbitt pgs. 54-58
50 East Main Street, Ashland, Oregon
DINNER, LIGHT SUPPERS, 7 DAYS
If we were to open a culinary school in Southem Oregon, we would have
our students spend a six-month intemship here.
This is how it is done.
Chateaulin Restaurant Français
|We are working on a rare spring appetizer of fresh morels.
The spongy brown caps - fragile mushroom thimbles - just moments ago were
sauteed in butter, sherry, and scallions, and brought forth steaming on
a nest of endive and lettuce. We have been seated for less than a quarter
of an hour, on a plush banquette behind a small table. The tape has just
segued into "Liebestraum."
In the very first minute the ice water was poured and its tall carafe left on the table, next to a vase of fresh day lilies and ferns. Three minutes later we had our bread, and two minutes after that, our chilled wines. Then came the morels, along with the Pâté maison - miniature slices of a homemade meat loaf of veal and pork, and pistachios-set off with cornichons, olives, and a rack of toastettes, neat as a bank of poker chips.
Three servers have been attending to these and other matters, doing near-arabesques in the narrow aisles without so much as a brush or a bump. They have addressed us as "Sir" and "Ma'am." Our primary waiter, using plain English, and without pomp or haste, has oriented us to the menu and explained the specials of the day. Looking us pleasantly in the eye, without benefit of pad or pencil, he has listened to our orders, acknowledging each with a polite nod, then headed off to take care of them.
That is how it is done.
If we were to open a culinary school somewhere in Southern Oregon, we would have our students spend a six-month internship at Chateaulin. (The French pronunciation is something close to "Shadowland" but everyone just says "Chateau Lynn.") For two weeks the students would do nothing but observe every aspect of the operation - from the morning prep work to the late-evening bistro and bar services. Then, after undergoing the restaurant's one equivalent of boot camp, they would begin apprenticeships, although the owners might refuse to take on any who were not in the top two percent of their class.
In Chateaulin's success formula, the first three ingredients are the familiar real estate mantra - location, location, location. At the corner of Oak, Main, and the short feeder street converging from the Ashland Plaza, this classic European-looking façade, with its hand-lettered sign, stands right in the path of tourists and theatergoers. Next door is its companion wine-and-gourmet-foods shop (488-WINE), where shoppers wander in at midday to pick up some Oregon preserves or Hungarian paprika. They ask about the restaurant, which, it turns out, does not offer lunch but compensates by serving its dinners, light suppers, and majestic snacks well into the night, even after the theaters have emptied out.
There you have another piece of the formula. You can easily spend fifty dollars or more per person here on a full dinner with wine - and many do. But Chateaulin's owners seem perfectly happy to have you order from their bistro menu and spend a third as much. What makes this alternative so appealing is that they don't stick you in a lesser room and make you eat lesser food. The bistro selections are as distinguished as the dinner ones - albeit in smaller portions - and include stylish aperitifs, soups, cheeses, escargots, shrimp, sausages, pastas, pastries, and coffees.
|Late in the evening a shorter bar menu takes over, but even that does not stoop to mediocrity. For example, at 10 PM you can obtain that same good pâté, with a basket of French bread and a brandy cappuccino, for about twelve fifty plus tip.||By now we are into the salad. Spared the comonplace ritual of selecting a dressing, we are assigned a creamy Dijon, which clings without excess to the mixed lettuces, toasted pine nuts, and cherry tomatoes - tiny as aggie marbles and sweet as penny candy.|
|We take in the narrow room. It is perhaps twenty feet wide and three
times as deep, extending back to a compact bar and a second dining room.
The bar, chairs, benches, and beams have a plain, dark, post-Gothic look.
Copper kitchenware is hung along the walls, and a fern basket from the
ceiling. The wall behind our upholstered banquette is papered in beige,
peppered with fleur-de-lis. The opposite wall is of old brick, with divided
windows looking out on an adjacent building, vined with ivy. An ornate,
mirrorlike cut glass window hangs by a chain against the inside of the
larger picture window facing the street.
In keeping with the narrow confines, the lamps are tiny - some of the pink Tiffany glass (on tables for two), a few of turned wood with amber shades, and other lilliputian versions circling a chandelier. Discreet overhead spotlights, red and white, lend sidewalk appeal-on a winter's evening they beckon you inside for a Bavarian coffee.
Our salad plates are cleared now and, in smooth motions, replaced with dramatic entrees and vegetables. These reveal the masterful touch of Chef David Taub, an artist with CIA (Culinary Institute of America) credentials. After just four visits we are beginning to realize the breadth of his talent.
Escalopes de veau, veal scallops, are a winning showdown - the pinkish slices fanned in a figurative royal straight flush, under a sauce of tarragon and wine. Suprêmes de Volaillle chicken breast fillets nearly as soft as cookie dough, are served in threes, and in two preparations. In the persille version, they get a crust of grain mustard, parsley, bread crumbs, and garlic. In the farcie treatment, they are stuffed with a forcemeat of scallions, hazelnuts, and cream cheese. Both preparations utilize complex demiglace reductions in their sauces, which we cannot resist mopping with bread, by way of fathoming them.
Half a duckling arrives well-done and tender to the bone, in a sauce of duck stock, cognac, and dried cherries. A rarer loin of venison is blessed with an intense green-peppercorn-port sauce. The fruits de mer are seasonal and often striking - a December fillet of pink steelhead trout, with shrimp, scallions, and dill, is dressed for the holidays.
Vegetarians need not wait in the car. Rolled up in the delicate crëpes Florentine are spinach, shiitake mushrooms, and parmesan. The crêpes have been baked in a sauce of wine, crème fraiche, onion, and tomato. The onion soup, a standby on the bistro menu, is the kind that one seeks out on a rainy night in Paris. It is baked in the bowl, so as to melt a bundle of Swiss cheese all over its crouton raft, sealing in the soup's heat. On the same light menu, some astonishing soups du jour show up; for example, a filling cream of snow pea.
The little side plates accompanying the entrées are filled with entertainers whose job it is to stave off vegetable boredom. The potatoes may be nothing more than a simple mash of waxy Yukon Gold with garlic and cream. In pommes de terre Dauphine, nutmeg is added to the grated potatoes, which are formed into little golf balls and deep fried to a golden puffiness. Alongside you may find stringless sugar pea pods done in ginger and garlic. Or perhaps carrots, julienne or pureed. The baby haricots verts are green beans as thin as darning needles. Golden beets - no, we are not color-blind - have the customers thinking "squash" but tasting ... well, success.
At dessert time there is no cart or tray. The properly schooled servers simply paint their verbal pictures. The blueberry tarte, barely held together by a shallow French crust, is glazed with jellied apricots, and served with a scoop of homemade cinnamon ice cream. The chocolate-raspberry roulade starts with fresh whipped cream rolled up in a light chocolate cake. The resulting log is spread with dark chocolate frosting, then lowered into a puddle of raspberry sauce. The Irish bread pudding comes armed with eighty-proof Bushmill's in its buttery sauce. Have you decided yet?
The wine list is practically unlimited, and the headwaiter has explored its depths. He steers us from a French Chardonnay in our favorite half-bottle size ("too flinty") to another half-bottle - a fruity Napa Sauvignon Blanc that isn't even on the published list. If it's something more or less than wine you seek, he can guide you through a caveful of single-malt whiskeys, brandies, ports, sherries, and beers.
Can we find anything wrong with this restaurant? Well, I suppose. If it's after dark and you are seated at the end of that banquette, facing the front window, the headlights of cars coming over the little hump on Oak Street may dazzle you. Take sunglasses. No restaurant is perfect.
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|Chateaulin Restaurant & Wine Shoppe
50 East Main Street, Ashland, Oregon 97520
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