Dining in 2010

Now is the prime time to pause and recall the best of 2010 before we turn the page to a new year.

After all, we're stuffed from the holidays and, like journalists across the country, prone to sitting back and reminiscing about the year that was. So instead of heading out to another hearty meal, contributors to the Word of Mouth dining column decided to share some of our favorites from the past year.

It seems 2010 was a good year for eating in the Rogue Valley. It brought some innovative newcomers and rejuvenated classics to the restaurant scene. Right in our own backyard, we've eaten our way around the world, thanks to new restaurants such as Blue — Greek on Granite in Ashland and Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus in Jacksonville and perennial favorites such as pan-Asian Bambu in Medford. And the big backyard of Southern Oregon — ripe with a panoply of fresh produce and a growing array of grains and meat — is a perfect place to celebrate some of the latest food trends such as sustainable, local, farm-fresh cuisine.

Summer Jo's, 2315 Upper River Road Loop, Grants Pass, has grown its own organic produce and eggs for more than a decade — long before the idea was adopted by trendy foodsters nationwide. The freshness and quality, along with recognition by Wine Spectator magazine as "one of the world's best restaurants for wine lovers," makes it a top dining destination. And the lavender lemonade, a perfectly sweetened concoction bearing a hint of the flowers' muskiness and astringency, is a perfect summer thirst-quencher. Keep a close watch on www.summerjos.com to see when they reopen in the spring.

Fans of food on the farm also will want to check out the Farm to Fork dining series, which chefs Matthew Domingo and Kristen Lyon launched in June. Diners tour a host farm then sit down for a family-style meal paired with local wines. See the schedule for the coming season, which again starts in June, at www.farmtoforkevents.com.

Food that comes from the same sustainable philosophy, but served up in a less rustic location, can be found at Downtown Market Co., 231 E. Main St., Medford. Nora LaBrocca and husband Brian Witter opened the downtown grocery with a kitchen in the back this year and serve a short menu of weekly specials prepared with whatever is ripe and ready in the store or their garden. Charmingly described as "like anybody's kitchen but on steroids," the venture consistently provides welcoming service and delicious food.

Flavors from farther afield can be found at Blue — Greek on Granite, which offers a welcome taste of dolmas, falafel, spanakopita, moussaka, tzaziki and even retsina in an engaging, sometimes boisterous atmosphere at 5 Granite St., Ashland.

More international flair arrived in the form of Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus, 525 Bigham Knoll, Jacksonville, home of the best Bavarian fare in town. OK, it is the only authentic German restaurant, but executive chef Hilary Kemmling, who owns the restaurant with other investors, really has attended to every detail. Waiters and waitresses clad in lederhosen and dirndls bring out schnitzel and spätzle and wursts of all sorts. Even if you can't go for a meal, the brewhaus' German beers and signature pretzels served with three varieties of mustard, can stand on their own.

For better-than-average bar food, set your course to LodeStar, 105 W. California St., Jacksonville. The little kitchen behind the bar turns out delicious tapas and other appetizers made from lots of local produce and cheeses, as well as savory soups and sandwiches and truly swoon-worthy desserts. A New York-style lemon cheesecake served with a sauce made from reduced syrah with cinnamon, star anise, cloves, black peppercorns, crushed cumin seeds and crushed red pepper is the kind of dish that will haunt your dreams.

Other best bites of the year included curry-basil salmon at Bambu (which has a great patio), a perfect eggplant picatta at Ashland's Cucina Biazzi (another great patio, but service is better in winter when the crowds thin), and an appetizer of veal sweetbreads, chanterelles, lardons and brown-buttered gnocchi at Chateaulin, Ashland's venerable dinner house, which got new owners and the addition of an adjacent bistro space for more casual dining this year.

Clearly, we ate well this year and hope you did, too. Here's to more good meals and good company in 2011.

— Anita Burke

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