America the beautiful — lest we forget, we have ourselves one stunning country. Apart from sensational cities, our majestic mountain ranges, verdant forests, and glorious shores give us so much to see and be proud of right here in our own homeland. I had a chance to explore one stretch of those glorious shores over a September weekend at the invitation of the Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach, situated along Oregon’s Central Coast.
Fly into Portland, one of America’s most food-obsessed restaurant meccas. The 120-mile car ride from PDX to the Salishan Resort will take a couple of hours, and there’s no better way to break that up than by stopping at a few wineries on the way in the fertile, alluvial Willamette Valley. Argue amongst yourselves if you insist, but you’re not going to find superior pinot noir anywhere else on the planet. Among the 500 plus vineyards in Oregon Wine Country you might consider stopping in for superb tastes with a stellar vista at White Rose Estate. Serious wine aficionados will also want to visit the Purple Hands Winery in Dundee, where winemaker Cody Wright is producing award-winning, world-class wines.
If wine is your thing, you might even want to book a private tour of the area with the knowledgeable team at Black Tie Tours. And those interested in aviation can check out the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville for a look at the original Spruce Goose, among other aeronautic highlights.
The ride southwest along Interstate 101 becomes progressively more gorgeous as you pass through mountain range forests of skyscraping pine trees perched high above the Earth’s largest ocean. Scenery aside, my mind turns to the abundant, hyper-local, and super fresh seasonal ingredients in this natural axis of ocean, mountain, and valley. There’s Chinook salmon and albacore tuna, clams and oysters, every variety of berry, beets, fingerlings, and just-foraged morel mushrooms. Hazelnuts abound, the beef and lamb are local, and the famous Tillamook cheese is made just miles away. Even the remarkable Jacobsen sea salt is harvested nearby. And all that pinot noir.
Go take a hike
Among the various vacation types — cultural, total chill, or super-active — this corner of the country is ideal for those who enjoy exploration and a variety of sporty land, sea, and even air activities, all while being able to eat and drink incredibly well. The surf temps might be wetsuit-worthy, but the hard-packed sand makes it fitting for horseback riding, ATV’s, or even fat-tire biking right on the shoreline. Feeling more adventurous? Fly in a biplane. Don’t miss the fantastic five-mile round-trip Cape Lookout Hiking Trail along the cliff 400 feet above the crashing ocean below. Or explore the sea life, go whale watching, and catch crabs in the busy commercial fishing city of Newport with the experienced pros at Marine Discovery.
When you’re ready for a luscious meal in Newport it doesn’t get any fresher than dining dockside at Local Ocean while watching the daily specials being hauled in across the street. Like the grilled coho salmon over grilled romaine hearts, heirloom tomatoes, red onions, roasted corn, pumpkin seeds, and crispy black quinoa with a roasted garlic-lemon vinaigrette. Nor will their albacore tuna Niçoise disappoint. Or dive into the rich roasted garlic and Dungeness crab soup in a creamy clam base with Parmesan cheese. And there were raves about the panko-coated rockfish Italiano, served on a hoagie roll with salami, pepperoni, pepperoncinis, and mozzarella. This is the kind of place where you could happily eat your way through the entire menu. Local beverages, adult and otherwise, round out a delightful eating experience.
Where to stay
The Salishan Spa and Golf Resort was our base of operations. Constructed in 1965 and recognized for its imaginative use of wood that complements the natural beauty of the coastline, the lodge is downright sexy. They’ve managed to contemporize the facilities without detracting from the resort’s original, classic design aesthetic. This well-preserved icon is a charming wood and stone lodge that’s authentically retro. I half expected Sinatra and the Rat Pack to appear at the cool, old-school Attic Lounge upstairs or by the funky indoor swimming pool.
Spacious guest rooms come equipped with fireplaces and lovely views. In addition to tennis, there is a Peter Jacobson-designed 18-hole golf course and relaxing, full-service spa on the 250-acre forested property. Plus an extraordinary culinary program led by talented young executive chef Andrew Garrison.
Breakfast might start with a tasty Pacific Northwest avocado toast with house-smoked salmon, pearl onions, and fine herbs. There’s a frittata with fried oysters, feta, and arugula, or an egg white version with spinach, avocado, and chèvre. If you decide on the huevos rancheros with cumin-braised pork, just make sure to be hungry for dinner at their signature restaurant, Samphire, to behold the beautiful bounty of the Oregon Coastal Range. From oysters and chowders to salmons and steaks, the menu changes regularly to incorporate the latest available ingredients, which could arrive that very day.
The tasting menu featured a seductive, mousse-like sweetcorn with crab, chanterelle, and cauliflower, followed by an inspired composition of carrots in mole with crispy duck confit, figs and the Egyptian condiment, dukkah. The Finnegan Creek striploin was prepared to pink perfection and served with lobster mushrooms and Yukon Gold potatoes over a mouthwatering sauce brought together by the reduced mushroom braising liquid with shallots, enhanced by herbs and cream. Even though I’m more of a savory fan than sweet, Garrison’s brown butter-saba sorbet with an espresso tuile and huckleberries was so damn delectable that it appeared as if my plate had gone through the dishwasher cycle when I was done.
A superior chef has a profound understanding and appreciation of ingredients — plus the training and technical skill to maximize their innate flavors. Add the creativity and deft touch to combine complementary and contrasting tastes and textures that achieve synergy without obscuring the individual components. Part science and part art, Garrison’s cooking delivers balanced, harmonious, elevated deliciousness.
The property occasionally offers a special winemaker dinner. Ours featured the exceptional wines of the Purple Hands Winery produced by the gifted Cody Wright. His passion is palpable and reflected in his obvious dedication to the craft. His complex and sumptuous wines epitomize this region’s particular agricultural greatness. The prestigious Wine Spectator agrees, having awarded three of his 2015 vintage pinot noirs with 94 points.
Whatever lodging, restaurants, wines, or activities you choose, there’s a very good chance you will eat, drink, play, and sleep well in this wonderful part of our country — and that’s just a few of the many things to love about Coastal Oregon.