CANNON BEACH - Inexplicable happenings often occur on the Northwest coast - Fort Stevens being shelled by a Japanese submarine during World War II, for example, or cougar sightings last winter in residential Astoria. Or more recently, giant Pacific squid washing up on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Still, Cannon Beach missing out on the region's restaurant renaissance was as unexpected as a 70-degree Thanksgiving Day. After all, this tony town loaded with galleries and boutiques, bakeries, a bookstore and a brewpub is a self-acclaimed trendsetting scene.
Sure, there is an assortment of well-regarded restaurants here, yet only a handful of them - the gotta-eat-there establishments - opened during the past half decade. One well-regarded dinner house, Kalypso, even left town. Unbelievably, Cannon Beach pretty well got skunked while nearby communities such as Astoria and Seaside welcomed a plethora of new eateries.
Until now, that is. Recent additions to the Cannon Beach dining scene include the relocated Cafe Mango (Coast Weekend, Oct. 7), Gower St. Bistro (Coast Weekend, Oct. 28) and now, JP's. The latter restaurant, formerly a casual airy midtown establishment with an open kitchen and an extroverted chef, was among this region's first bistros.
Bigger than before, the three-month-old newer and better JP's is situated downtown in a building that used to house a grocery store. The atmosphere is chic without being cutesy, upscale but not pretentious or formal. The decor is simple but not austere - no minimalist surroundings here. A peek inside may not prove tantalizingly tempting, but once ensconced at a table, you'll feel at ease. A dining companion proclaimed the restaurant accommodating, and indeed all the servers are friendly, professional and well-informed.
JP's also is one of a growing number of eateries popping up around here (hooray!) that defy easy labeling - pleasingly quirky establishments with competent and creative chefs who purvey imaginative renditions of old standbys using the finest fixings available. A dark-colored vaulted ceiling highlights the small dining area, but six days a week the real show takes place in the eatery's open kitchen. This is the stage for nightly performances by culinary virtuoso Bill Pappas, who regularly manhandles flaming fry pans awash in wine or cooking sherry. An Oregon Culinary Institute grad who co-owns JP's with his wife Diana, the bearded Pappas attracts lots of stares with his pyrotechnics. But most patrons' oohs and aahs are reserved for the finished product.
In true bistro style, patrons can feast on an eclectic array of edibles (the menu has expanded from the former location) - everything from Caesar salad and this region's most delectable seafood chowder to crab cakes and pasta primavera. The latter dish can be had at many restaurants, but Pappas' bowtie-shaped farfelle pasta blended with crunchy chunks of bell peppers, zucchini and garlic and slivers of sundried tomatoes is a consummate interpretation of this beloved Italian mainstay.
Traditional pesto pasta tossed with chicken breast and artichoke hearts is equally splendid and hardly subtle - the meld of basil, garlic, al dente pasta shapes and expertly prepared fowl satisfies with every forkful. In fact, virtually everything Pappas purveys exhibits a healthy dose of flair, but he never subs style for substance.
Want a basic steak, for instance? A flame-broiled New York cut finished with a green peppercorn sauce is your ticket to carnivore nirvana. More adventuresome (and $6 cheaper) is Pappas' stracotto al Borolo (literally, a Borolo-region stew), a top sirloin cooked in a lusty red wine sauce and literally smothered with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and hunks of garlic. This dish is anything but dainty; devouring it (and you will) is akin to participating in some bacchanalian feast.
Soups and salads are superior. Thick and lusty seafood chowder is a must-have starter, but if bean soup - an earthy potion that'll warm your innards without overwhelming your palate - is being offered ... well, it'll be a tough choice. Crab cakes sided by a cocktail sauce kissed with lemon and lime are sublime, and the Caesar is super. So too Pappas' signature Black Forest salad amply stocked with chicken and lamb.
Diners who can handle a few more bites should consider one of Diana Pappas' desserts, particularly her cappuccino torte lavished with more titillating ingredients than anyone should consider consuming in a single sitting. Diana recalls that when her oldest daughter Danita was away on a church mission in Utah, she wrote home asking her parents to send extra clothing and other essentials - including a cappuccino torte! "I sent her the recipe, a spring-form pan and cash to purchase all the ingredients," Diana says. Now Danita works at the restaurant, so a slice of dessert heaven is never far away.
Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103, phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Three and a half stars (out of four)
240 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Prices: Expensive. Many lunch selections crest $10, and most dinner entrees (served with bread, soup or salad) cost $17 or more. Desserts cost $5.95.
Superior selections: Crab cakes, seafood chowder, Black Forest salad, chicken and artichoke pesto, pasta primavera, stracotto al Borolo, cappuccino torte.
Atmosphere: Quirky - upscale without being pretentious or formal, chic but not too cutesy.
Service: Friendly, professional, informative and unobtrusive.
Kid-friendly: Absolutely. The Pappas' have seven children, so they're child-oriented (one daughter works at the restaurant).
Vegetarian options: Pasta primavera, ravioli cappaletta and a few salads.
Alcohol: Beer and an excellent, well-priced wine list.
Access: The entrance and restrooms are accessible to those in wheelchairs.
Credit cards: Discover, Mastercard, Visa.
Personal checks: Local checks, only.
Smoking: Not permitted.