Wine+Food Review: Thistle Restaurant in McMinnville, OR

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Ever walk into a trendy restaurant where all the furniture looks futuristic and the decor is hipster, and notice how beautiful everyone is? You just feel like you're hanging with the "it" crowd and that's the place to be. Maybe it's on the 26th floor of a new skyscraper in Manhattan or in downtown San Francisco where the founder of Twitter like to been seen.

Thistle is the complete opposite of that. The glassware and silverware look like they were purchased from a garage sale and the weathered wood floor creaks. Located in the heart of Oregon wine country, Thistle is the perfect anti-trendy place to eat. When James Beard award-winning chef Eric Bechard and his equally qualified front-of-the-house wife/wine buyer Emily Howard opened Thistle, it was all about the good stuff.

I sat at the counter, which felt like sitting in my Grandma's pantry. There were jars lining the wall and a tiny kitchen tucked in the corner.  There were all the things I remember about my Grandma's kitchen, except my Grandma didn't have a stellar wine list.

I loved Thistle.  Sitting at the bar was cool because I was able to chat with Chef Eric throughout the entire meal.  It was also cool because it was located in the heart of downtown McMinville, OR.  So many cool places are just steps away, including McMenamins Hotel Oregon.  Thistle was unpretentious and all about relaxing with a good meal.  How often do you get to chat with the chef during and after dinner?

If the food wasn't impressive enough, the wine list was equally as impressive.  I liked that Thistle didn't have Oregon wines only on the list.  Emily put together one of the most impressive wine lists I've seen in a long time.  There were esoteric wines from all over the world, and they were all high quality as well as well priced.  I took her suggestion and did a glass of wine with each course.  Here's what I had:

First pairing: 2008 Auxerrois from Adelsheim, Ribbon Ridge with Chioggia Beets, Arugula, Chevre & orange

Second pairing: 2003 Alicante Bouschet from Esporao, Portugal with Flat Iron Steak w/ spicy Chimichurri, Potato and Brocoli

It was hard to pick from the menu because everything looked SO good.  Even the bread was good—fresh baked down the street.  You gotta love a restaurant that has the menu up on a blackboard that changes every day.  Each time you go into Thistle, you can expect a unique experience.

The whole time as I'm licking my chops, Chef Eric kept coming over and chatting with me about this, that or the other thing.  He talked about working in Seattle and how it is working with his wife in a new business.  Chef was rocking a faux hawk that day.  You kinda get the sense there's no rules for employees at Thistle, other than good authentic food.

The beet salad stood up well to the Auxerrois without overpowering it.  Auxerrois is not much unlike Pinot Gris, so it has some similar notes, especially (in this case) wet rocks, mineral notes and asian pear.  I thought the acidity or tartness might be too much for the salad, but the beets and orange danced together nicely.

But what really blew my hair back was the beef with Chimichurri sauce.  I've made flank steak with Chimichurri a few times, and it was good.  But this one was completely different.  There was a tangy spiciness that lit up my taste buds like a pinball machine.  The steak was cooked perfectly, only to be perfected even more with the Portuguese red.  Seven years of age was perfect for the Alicante Bouschet grape. There was enough sweetness to offset the spicy flavors on the beef.

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