Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shakespeare, and Good Eats in Oregon


While the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, currently in the midst of its annual nine-month-long run, has long been a magnet drawing culture seekers to Ashland in southern Oregon, the scenic town has never been much of a destination for food enthusiasts. But a number of new and wide-ranging restaurants are redrawing the town’s culinary map.

More intimate is The Loft (18 Calle Guanajuato; 541-482-1116), another of Ashland’s new restaurants, dishing up contemporary American food with a French spin. As the spot’s name implies, seating is upstairs in an airy space with 20-foot ceilings and a restrained décor. On the menu you’ll find macaroni and cheese with truffles from the nearby Oregon coast ($15), coq au vin made with free-range chicken from a farm in Medford, Ore. ($17), and housemade chocolates served with sauce made from hand-picked huckleberries ($6). “We see southern Oregon as its own ecosystem,” said Jacqueline Vidalo, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Jeremy. “It’s easier this way: if we run out of something, we can go pick it up.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eclectic mix of French and American


Ashland Loft restaurant
By Jennifer Margulis

Shakespeare had much to say about food, from "the apple of her eye" ("Love's Labour's Lost") to "shall we go and kill us venison" ("As You Like It"). As the Bard's fans flock to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland each summer, they have plenty to chew on over the city's dining scene, as well.

During the past 13 months, a number of eateries have opened in Ashland. But there's a lot of turnover in this town, and some locals have noticed that high prices don't always mean high quality.

The real question is: Are the new restaurants as pleasing to the palate as the Bard is to the ear?

Don't let the ugly entranceway fool you. The restaurant upstairs, which has 18-foot ceilings, a fireplace and patio seating overlooking Ashland Creek, is casually elegant. You'll be welcomed by Jacqueline Vidalo, 28, who opened the restaurant in March with her husband and head chef, Jeremy Vidalo, 25.

Jacqueline is as enthusiastic about sourcing food locally as she is about the restaurant business. The huckleberries for the sauce on their handmade chocolates ($6), and the truffles for the truffle-infused macaroni and cheese, are handpicked by a French native, Louis Jeandin, who also sells his wares at the Tuesday Grower's Market.

With entrées like wild mushroom pesto lasagna ($17) and coq au vin ($17), made with chicken from a farm in neighboring Talent, the menu is an eclectic mix of French and American, and the Vidalos are becoming famous for their macaroni and cheese ($20), made with reggiano, pancetta, and Dungeness crab and cooked to salty, creamy perfection.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Polished reinterpretation of comfort-food classics


By Sarah Lemon

Perched in a second-story space above Ashland Creek, Loft American Brasserie & Bar also looks poised to rise above the local dining scene.

The quarters at 18 Calle Guanajuato have been less than kind to past inhabitants. Pilaf met its demise after a rocky eight-year run while BZ's Last Stand & Hacienda closed after less than a year. Optimistic despite others' bad luck, Jacqueline and Jeremy Vidalo-Singh opened Loft last month.

Although both are in their mid-20s, the Vidalo-Singhs cite ample industry experience behind their new venture. Jeremy Vidalo-Singh came of age at his father's Medford restaurant, India Palace. His wife, a former India Palace patron, worked in Ashland eateries but set her heart on the Calle Guanajuato location for their own business.

The couple's culinary identity is staunchly Western, borrowing from Europe to create an upscale, continental decor and polished reinterpretation of comfort-food classics. Their menu effortlessly spans the divide between burger and filet mignon with portions and prices to satisfy any craving.

It's for good reason that so many diners crave Loft's white-truffle macaroni and cheese. Unlike so many dishes purported to contain that distinctive fungus, Loft's is the real deal. Each bite is redolent with the earthiness of this delicacy and not at all compromised by the addition of sharp cheddar and crispy pancetta.

Pushing decadence to the extreme, Loft will add Dungeness crab for $4 to the entree portion of macaroni, priced at $16. But the pasta's sauce is so rich that diners could settle for the side-dish size ($7).

Served in individual, oven-proof vessels, the macaroni and cheese still bubbles upon delivery to the table. Considering the trek from Loft's first-floor kitchen to second-floor dining room, the temperature of almost every item is admirable.

My "shepherd's pie" of duck confit and root-vegetable puree ($17) also arrived boiling hot in its own gratin dish. I appreciated the duck's savory flavor offset by the mashed parsnips' sweetness but would have enjoyed a little more contrast in textures. The accompaniment of seasonal vegetables was a vibrant mix of Brussels sprouts, beet cubes and broccolini. Loft's entrees also include a choice of soup or salad, unexpected in Ashland.

My friend selected the salad of spring greens and grape tomatoes with her main course of wild-mushroom lasagna ($16). I chose the soup, a puree of fennel and cauliflower, a combination I'd never before seen in local restaurants.

Attractively garnished with herb-infused oils and freshly chopped parsley, the soup's silky texture was marred by a few tough strings from the fennel but remained steaming hot to the last bite. Diners can upgrade their side dishes to clam chowder or a specialty salad for an additional $3.

Affordable prices continue on Loft's wine list, which includes several local labels, most in the $6 range for a glass. Its Enoteca housed in the same building, EdenVale Winery blends viognier and pinot gris in its Midsummer white, $5 per glass at Loft. Its Bordeaux-style red blend, primarily cabernet franc, is $7. My friend imbibed the latter while I sipped a glass of Agate Ridge marsanne-roussanne. Several French and Spanish varietals also can be had for $5 or $6.

A polished wood bar overlooking Loft's staircase would be the ideal vantage for a glass of wine and appetizers — perhaps mini beef Wellingtons ($11) or chorizo-infused mussels ($9). Some of the lesser-priced dinner items likely will join more soups, salads and even brunch dishes when Loft opens for lunch later this month.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New restaurant opens on the Plaza


Eatery will offer French cuisine


By Elon Glucklich

A pair of young restaurant owners are hoping their French cuisine adds a splash of culture to Ashland's dining scene.

Jacqueline and Jeremy Vidalo-Singh have opened Loft American Brasserie & Bar, a French-style gourmet eatery in the heart of the Ashland plaza. Located at 18 Calle Guanajuato on the Old Masonic Walkway downtown, the restaurant is Ashland's newest, but its owners plan on sticking around.

"We've worked in restaurants in Ashland for quite a while," said Jeremy. "We look at it not as work, but as having people come to hang out, like they were over for dinner."
Jacqueline and Jeremy, in their mid-20s, have been married for five years. Singh's father is the owner of Medford's India Palace. Working at his father's restaurant provided Jeremy with much more than a blueprint for success in the restaurant business. It's how he met his wife.

"I was waiting tables at India Palace, and her family had been coming for two or three years," Jeremy said. "Eventually we started hanging out, and then we were living together, and here we are."

To run a "brasserie," in French terms, is to host a casual dining experience with meals prepared in a comfortable atmosphere. Diners at Loft can sample a variety of dinner options, from steak au poivre and duck shepherds pie, to classic clam chowder and white truffle scented macaroni and cheese.

"The white truffle macaroni and cheese has been really popular," Jacqueline said.

They held a soft opening for Loft on Jan. 8. The couple said it was well received and, on the strength of its reception, it is now open for regular hours, Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Jacqueline said she knew it would only be a matter of time until she and her husband were given the chance to put their skills to use.
"We had been looking for a place to open a restaurant for a while," she said. "We figured if we were going to work for someone else, why not work a little harder for ourselves? It's much more rewarding."

The couple had considered several locations in Medford to start their business. Looking in Ashland, Jacqueline said she knew the two-story space at 18 Calle Guanajuato would be the perfect home from the moment they first walked in.
"It was so amazing," she said. "I knew this was it."

Ownership is a whole new venture for the young couple. But it is one they say they are eager to take on. Jeremy says his experiences in the restaurant industry will help him adapt to a style of cooking that, until now, had been relatively foreign.

"One thing that attracted me about doing a French restaurant was the sauce making," he said. "I think that comes from the sauces used in making Indian food. There's definitely a similarity there."

Starting in February, Loft will hold lunch hours from 11 p.m. until 2 p.m., before opening for its regular dinner hours. In addition to French cuisine, the restaurant will offer a carefully sorted selection of wines.

"As warmer weather comes, we'll expand to patio and private dining," Jacqueline said. "We'll also be hiring."

The couple is opening their business at a time when many restaurant owners in town are struggling to make a profit. But they see their arrival as a perfect timing, with an original style of French food, and a comfortable dining environment that will stay in town for the years ahead.

"I'm ecstatic," Jacqueline said. "I'm excited to get to work."

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at