Pondering a memorable meal, like reminiscing about a first love, is an exercise in sweet nostalgia. Here's my annual peek back at the summer's most unforgettable noshes and full-fledged repasts. Some of the preparations may not currently be offered. Phone ahead to check availability.
The most satisfying sandwiches I enjoyed this summer, and among the best I've eaten all year, come from the Astoria Co-Op (1389 Duane St., Astoria, (503) 325-0027), the healthful downtown corner grocery with a colorful outdoor sign in the shape of a carrot. The selection is unusual - where else in town might you order a tofu-pate sandwich? - and the quality is extraordinary. If you've never tasted a ripe organic tomato, for instance, you'll be wowed by the difference. Sandwiches filled with hummus, avocado and cheese, Tofurkey and tuna are possibilities; all of 'em feature slices of stout and chewy oat bran, four-grain, whole wheat or wheat-free breads. Sandwiches are premade and cost $5 or less.
Sometimes an unfussy plate of pasta fills the bill. Like on a sultry August evening during Astoria's annual Regatta Festival, when throngs of people crowd the Columbia River waterfront, reveling in the fireworks illuminating the night sky. A window table (or one out on the deck) at Baked Alaska restaurant (No. 1 12th St., Astoria, (503) 325-7414) is definitely one of the premier places in town to be - savoring a plate of linguine, cooked al dente and coated in a light and mild curry-cream sauce, with succulent and tender sea scallops part of the mix ($19).
Inside the cozy Blowfish Cafe (575 E. Harbor St., Warrenton, (503) 861-0131), situated just in back of Warrenton's mooring basin, commercial fisherman Stuart Arnold grills, sautes, deep-fries and rolls his catch, resulting in simple but hearty meals that elicit raves from lovers of ocean bounty, like me. Especially noteworthy is Arnold's Parmesan halibut ($10), grilled in olive oil and served with garlic-kissed asparagus (or whatever vibrant veggie is on hand) and white rice.
Here's the beef
Nothing could be finer, afternoon or evening, than the dry-rubbed, alder-smoked brisket of beef at the newish Brooks Bar-B-Que House (204 Pioneer Road E., Long Beach, Wash., (360) 642-4227), owned and operated by Fred and Cassandra Shoecraft. We ordered ours by the pound ($10.50), accompanied by eight-ounce sides of baked beans and messy-good cole slaw (both $1.75), plus mild and spicy barbecue sauces concocted with a secret recipe from Cassandra's dad.
Chicken is more often considered comforting rather than stunning chow. Not at Fulio's Pastaria (1149 Commercial St., Astoria, (503) 325-9001), where chef Peter Roscoe marinates a half free-range chicken in lemon, rosemary and garlic, then grills and bakes the bird. The cooking regimen renders the fowl crispy skinned on the outside, yet lusciously moist within, and every bite carries the herbaceous flavors. Sides might include oven-baked zucchini chunks and thick, well-seasoned rounds of potato. I like my Pollo Rosemarino ($17) with a bottle of Tocai Friulano ($23), a complimentary light and fruity Italian white wine.
I must have sampled almost 100 desserts this summer. Two that stand out came from the kitchen at the family oriented Lumberyard Rotisserie & Grill (264 Third St., Cannon Beach, (503) 436-0285), an expansive eatery that arose from the remains of a builders' supply store. A huge fruit tart a la mode stuffed with strawberries and rhubarb put a cap on a rotisserie tri-tip beef dinner. But yummiest sweet treat of all was a Fallen Chocolate souffle, a gooey-warm cake offset by espresso-mocha ice cream and well worth the caloric intake (both desserts, $5).
Fine dining in dairy land
A country-formal experience out in the middle of Nehalem Valley cow country is the order of the evening at the Nehalem River Inn (34910 Oregon Highway 53, Mohler, (503) 368-7708). Always a good bet is chef Ryan Hamic's Painted Hills (Ore.) New York steak ($27), served as a trio of small cuts leaning on a portion of white cheddar potato gratin.
Hamic butchers his own meat, and this is one impressive cut, as befits its New York pedigree. My version featured French horn mushrooms - substantial like portabellos - and wisps of chard artfully arranged alongside the beef.
At Nina's Italian Restaurant & Lounge (36480 U.S. 101, Manzanita, (503) 368-6592), a red-sauce eatery reminiscent of the places I frequented growing up in northern New Jersey, the strombolli ($10 for entree, only) features a generous portion of linguine, melted cheese, sliced sausage and sauteed button mushrooms, all held together by a sumptuous marinara sauce.
Forget Chinese; this is the ideal take-out meal. I like to pair mine with a bowl of chunky minestrone soup ($3.75 to $6) and savor Tillamook County's finest Italian-American culinary one-two punch.
Sure, a salad or a plate of pasta could satisfy, but sometimes I crave a burger. Then I slither into the Schooner Twelfth Street Bistro (360 12th St., Astoria, (503) 325-7882), ensconce myself at one of the tiny tables in the lounge area and order a buffalo burger ($9) medium rare. What arrives are two patties of lean meat layered with lettuce, tomato, melted Swiss and a couple thick rashers of bacon. The slew of contents is scrunched into an onion bun with an olive and pepperoncini toothpicked into the top. Situated amid a sea of fresh-cut fries, this burg makes for one heck of a satisfying guilty pleasure.
Angela Coscia has tacos down pat at her Tacos y Tiki Juice (1009 Commercial St., Astoria, no phone). Buff two-for-six-bucks beauts can be had with beef, fish (mahi-mahi), chicken or a host of veggies, and every version comes packed with a luscious mishmash of black beans, rice, grated cheese, chopped cilantro, slices of carrot, tortilla chips, lime wedges and a tiny Mexican toothpick flag tucked into the top. I can't get past the mahi-mahi - tender hunks of light-colored fish flesh exuding warm-water goodness. A tall cooler of Key limeade or a lavender-mint julep tea always leaves my palate in tropical nirvana.
Other notable noshes:
At Goose Hollow at the Cove (220 Avenue U, Seaside, (503) 717-1940), a Reuben is built with prodigious amounts of corned beef, sauerkraut and melted Swiss, all of it sandwiched between two slices of toasted dark rye oozing creamy triple-rich Thousand Islandlike dressing.
Bagels By The Sea (210 S. Holladay Drive, Seaside, (503) 717-9145) showcases a wide-ranging menu. My current fave is the Harvest turkey sandwich, a toasted onion bagel (other bagel choices can be had) crammed with moist house-baked fowl enhanced by generous smears of cream cheese and nectarean cranberry sauce.
Daily breads (polenta and potato loaves, brioche, herbed-olive, onion-rye), whole-wheat cinnamon rolls and other baked goodies are some of the staples I have a hard time resisting at pint-sized Bread and Ocean (387 Laneda Ave., Manzanita, (503) 368-5823). Ditto for the breads at Pacific Way Bakery & Cafe (601 Pacific Way, Gearhart, (503) 738-0245). I frequently pick up a loaf of potato-dill, molasses-oatmeal or whatever loaves are available.
Slices of Nancy Daggatt's Marionberry or blueberry-custard pies ($3) are can't-miss take-out desserts from Gearhart Grocery Deli (599 Pacific Way, Gearhart, (503) 738-7312).
Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail email@example.com