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We spent Thanksgiving in Oregon. We flew in, brought my mom in and the in-laws drove up from Arizona. Our plan had us staying a couple days in the Willamette Valley, then moving to Portland for the final days of the holiday. Our plan was simple, pick a nice hotel where we could relax and enjoy Thanksgiving and have a great holiday meal. There aren’t many options that offer everything we were looking for, but we found the Allison Inn and Spa and it checked all the boxes.
We knew of the Allison for a few years now, but never had the opportunity to visit. The restaurant on site, Jory, gets high praise too. The hotel is located in Newberg, Oregon, which is about an hour from Portland. This 85 room hotel is situated in the rolling hills just a few minutes outside of town. As you pull on property, the winding road takes you by the Hotel and you loop around to the complimentary valet parking. You can self park, if you prefer, but why would you?
You walk into the main lobby where several employees are waiting at reception. You get a total Pacific Northwest vibe from this place, with the slate floors and abundance of wood grains throughout. Check-in was quick and except for a member of our group complaining about the room rate (which was about $350/room/night). They let us know about the walking trails on property as well as the hours of the spa, restaurant and the bar (really the most important info about a hotel stay).
The Allison is often used for local corporate events – rumor has it Nike and Intel often book the whole property. That being said, this isn’t your stereotypical conference hotel. It isn’t sterile and bland like the traditional conference space. During our stay we didn’t really feel like we were at anything but a nice hotel in the Oregon Wine Country.
Past reception is the main lobby (you know, I hate how at some hotels you have to walk through the maze that is the social lobby just to check in at some hotels, this wasn’t the case here). The lobby area has ample seating around a big beautiful fireplace. We spent many an hour here, enjoying the fire, chatting and working our way through the cocktail and snack lists. We waited no longer than one minute from the time we sat down in the lobby before we were greeted by a server who brought us water, menus and these wonderfully spiced hazelnuts (or as we locals call them, filberts). The service team here was really top notch. While they may not have been the most polished, they were genuinely concerned about your happiness and really pushed to make your stay memorable.
We were given ground floor rooms with small patios. We looked out on the hotel grounds which were in the throes of autumn color change. Red, yellow and orange leaves accompanied the beautiful evergreens making a truly picturesque view. It was unseasonably warm during our visit (15C/60F), so we spent quite a bit of time outside on our patio, walking the grounds or cocktailing by the outside next to the main bar.
The rooms were large and had a king bed, a love seat sized window seating area, a comfortable chair, an adequately sized desk which could be used as an in room dining area too.
The bathroom was very large, with separate shower and tub. The soaking tub called to me, but since we were traveling with family, lounging in the tub with a bottle of wine by myself didn’t seem to make much sense. Next time.
The mini bar was quintessential Pacific Northwest, which included chocolate covered filberts, nutrition bars, chips and filtered water. The water wasn’t bottled per se, but was filtered and kept in a refillable glass vessel, which was much more environmentally sound than all those wasted bottles we toss while at hotels. The mini bar was complimentary, but unfortunately we never got our chocolate covered filberts restocked…that was probably a good thing, considering how much I ate on this visit.
We booked spa appointments months in advance as we weren’t sure how busy the Hotel would be. Would they book up, or would they close the spa for Thanksgiving? We got massages on Thanksgiving morning. The facilities were relatively great. There aren’t a lot of high end spas in the area to compare this to. It was very clean, with proper lockers, both a dry and a wet sauna and a couple showers. The spa was separated into male and female areas, but there was a coed waiting area if you prefer. Honestly the massages were really great. Hotel massages can really be hit or miss and the team at the Allison really hit it out of the park. 90 minutes just flew by.
We ate three meals at the hotel, lunch and dinner on Thanksgiving, plus breakfast the next day. Only lunch on Thanksgiving wasn’t without issues though. We grabbed a casual lunch in the bar, knowing that we had a large tasting menu planned for Thanksgiving dinner…plus all those wonderfully spiced filberts during afternoon cocktails. I had the mac and cheese, while the others all had the smoked salmon wrap. It was a really delightful lunch.
Dinner, at Jory, was an interesting endeavor. We booked our rooms in March – we wanted to make sure that we had a place to stay. Shortly after booking, I emailed the hotel to make proper Thanksgiving Dinner reservations. I was greeted the next day with a response saying that it was too early to make those reservations, but Jory’s manager would reach out as soon as it was possible to make reservations. I followed up again in August and got the same response. Again, I followed up in September and was told that Thanksgiving dinner was sold out and there was NOTHING they could do. I was frustrated and absolutely livid. After nearly half a dozen emails we finally got it squared away and managed to get dinner reservations at 19h30 – a little later than we wanted, but it was much better than grabbing a sandwich at the Safeway. After this interaction, we were a little concerned with how the actual stay would go (remember, this issue popped up two months before we set foot on property). We had long conversations about changing our plans. Ultimately they fixed it, but it took some strong language and the threat of cancelling our whole stay with them before it was resolved.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving dinner. The five of us were seated and we had been studying the menu all day, so once we sat down, we were ready to rock and roll. The tasting menu had traditional Thanksgiving selections that were both individually selected and shared for the table. Everyone else selected the turkey dinner option, while I chose the ham. The turkey wasn’t a turkey in the traditional sense, it was more of a turkey roll, which disappointed most of our table. They enjoyed it, but they all felt it seemed a little processed and the easy way out. My ham was quite fatty and salty, but I do believe I made the best selection.
The next day we wanted breakfast at the hotel, before we went out wine tasting. We arrived at 09h30 and asked about breakfast and were told that breakfast was no longer being served – despite the fact that people were just going in to be seated. As an alternative, we were offered the snack menu at the bar – which only had four-top tables for the five of us. It was suggested that we sit at different tables, or one of us could sit at the bar, while the other four sat at a table. I was really surprised at these suggestions.
I asked to speak to someone else, the manager, the supervisor, someone. With my previous issues with the restaurant team here, I knew that dealing with the manager on duty would get more traction. Usually I don’t ask for the manager, I work with the front line people and almost always we come to a positive resolution. The manager let me know that we couldn’t be seated at the five-top table in the restaurant because it was reserved…for a party of four….at 13h00. They intended on holding the table for 3.5 hours. I told the manager that we had plans to go wine tasting and had no intention of sitting around that table for 3.5 hours and if we were still sitting there at 12h00 she could personally remind me and I’d make sure we left. She balked. I truly felt this was unreasonable, so the discussion continued. They eventually relented about 20 minutes later.
We were seated for breakfast, waters and menus were delivered, then interestingly enough, it took 30 minutes before anyone returned to even take drink orders. It was 10h30 at this point.
The breakfast menu was interesting, as it had a few left over items from the Thanksgiving Dinner, including Turkey Stuffing Bread Pudding and Turkey Eggs Benedict. We were all pretty content with our breakfast selections, but were tired of the service issues at Jory and were ready to make a move.
My mom and the in-laws spent a few hours after breakfast in the main lobby, near the fireplace, reading and chatting while we headed off to hit a couple of wineries. Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends are huge tasting weekends in the Willamette Valley. After spending time out enjoying the wineries, we returned to pickup the family and head off to Portland. The lobby was bustling and I sat down to see how the parents enjoyed their time by the fire, the server who had helped me each day, arrived with seasoned filberts and a negroni – the drink that I had started off my cocktail hour(s) with each day. She remembered and delivered without me even acknowledging her. It was lovely. I had no intention of grabbing a drink then, but it would be rude not to enjoy the drink…wouldn’t it?
Our time at the Allison was over. It wasn’t without hiccups, mostly relating to the team at Jory. The hotel itself was quite lovely, especially for the area and in general the service was stellar. Our biggest issues, really came from the front line service leadership at Jory while everyone else was on point. The views from the hotel are so relaxing for me. I grew up just a few miles from the Allison, so it really felt like home and was just what I was looking for in a Thanksgiving break with family.
How do you spend your Thanksgiving breaks? Do you work hard to spend time with family at home, or do you take a trip somewhere…or do you take your extended family with you somewhere? While it was a great time and I thoroughly look forward to another stay at the Allison, I will say, I’m not looking forward to another big family holiday road trip soon.
After a long Thanksgiving week with the extended family I needed a bit of a break. My final night in Portland for the Thanksgiving holiday, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with a friend – which allowed us lots of time to tell Thanksgiving tales of crazy. It was quite cathartic.
My friend offered three suggestions for our Sunday dinner, of which I selected Beast. Beast is often billed as a “Meat-centric” or a “Meat-Heavy” restaurant in Portland’s trendy Alberta Arts District. I was excited to try this restaurant, but sure didn’t want five courses of meat, luckily the menu was much more balanced.
When I told locals (bar tender, Uber driver, hotel concierge) I was going to Beast, every single person asked when I made the reservation, then they were totally shocked when I said I booked it on Friday morning (for a Sunday meal). Evidently, reservations are very hard to come by. I’m assuming that the Sunday after Thanksgiving wouldn’t be a busy day considering all the gluttony that had taken place over the past four days. On Sundays there is one seating – 19h00, while Wednesday through Saturday offers two seatings 18h00 and 20h45. Beast is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Two communal dining tables offer seating for guests. There was seating for about 20 people, but during our meal, we only had about 10 other people dining with us. The fixed price six-course menu was $125 per person, plus $50 per person optional wine pairings – which of course we did add on the wine pairings.
We had a nice view of the kitchen and staging area, but honestly, we didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in the kitchen, we spent most of our time catching up.
The food was coursed out evenly and with little fanfare. Each course was delivered, along with the appropriate wine pairing, and the server provided a high level description of both the food and the wine. The descriptions were pretty bare bones, but again, our focus on this dinner was a good meal and to catch up with an old friend – we weren’t looking for the full details and all the nitty gritty of the meal.
The meal progressed at a leisurely pace, but never once did we feel rushed nor did we stop to ask ourselves what was taking so long. It was really perfectly paced. The single items that I liked the least, was the espresso ice cream and that is only because I really don’t like the flavor of espresso or coffee. Everything else was really wonderful. The duck ragu was my favorite course followed closely by the beef tenderloin.
Another interesting part about Beast – gratuity is already included in the price. I’m not sure how I feel about that. In Europe, it is common not to tip. We were taken aback when there wasn’t a tip option on the receipt either, and after a quick Google Search we found that tip was included (when my friend saw the receipt she had a vague recollection that gratuity was included). Once the checks were delivered, the staff was redirected into cleaning up and closing shop – so we couldn’t really snag anyone to confirm the gratuity situation.
Portland is a tough city for me. I don’t spend much time there and when I do, I have many obligations, including friends, co-workers and family. There are so many great restaurants in Portland there are too few meals in the day to eat at every I want to try. That being said, I would definitely return to Beast.
Have you eaten here? Did you think it was a meat-centric menu? What other recommendations do you have for Portland dining?
Our Labor Day Weekend trip to Yosemite ended with a final night in San Francisco, before our flight back to Chicago. I was given a choice of 3 restaurants for our one main meal in San Francisco, and I selected Coi (pronounced kwah – not coy). This Michelin Two-Star Restaurant is located in the North Beach neighborhood. The seafood centric menu by newly named chef, Matthew Kirkley was exquisite. Chef Kirkley and a few other members of his team recently left Chicago for San Francisco and are doing amazing things at Coi.
I wrote a few days about about the geographical error in the wine list – a simple, yet glaringly obvious issue: Burgundy is in France, not Germany. We all make errors in our work, but something as basic as this really surprises me that it made through the review process. Perhaps someone went in and intentionally made a change when printing new menus. How long had this error been present? How important is an issue like this when the fine folks from Michelin come in to review the restaurant? That being said, if the worst part of the dinner was a wrong country listed on a wine list, I’d consider that to be a win.
This meal made the list of best dining experiences we’ve had this year. It wasn’t number one for the year, remember, we went to Lima and ate our way through some of the best places on the continent (more on that later). For me, the standout dish was the Dungeness Crab. Being an Oregonian, I have a special place in my heart, er, stomach, for Dungeness Crab. One of the reasons this course stood out was the juxtaposition of the presentation (which looked fine, but didn’t wow me) and the flavors / textures of the food itself. My expectations were dropped based on presentation, but my mouth was blown away by the execution.
From a wine perspective, I think the Burgundy served with the Maine Lobster was great. I am a major fan of, as I call them, dirty Pinot Noirs. I just love the Earthy flavors that come from some of the world’s best Pinots. Oregon and Burgundy are my favorite regions for this type of wine and the 2006 Serafin Père et Fils, ‘Les Millandes,’ Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru sure fit the bill.
What I also loved about Coi was the service. When we visited L20, in Chicago (where Chef Kirkley and at least one of Coi’s servers came from), the service was abysmal…at best. We loved, again, the juxtaposition of the highly-elevated fine dining experience, with the gentile and approachable staff. We quickly built a rapport with the service team and laughed quite a bit together. After the meal, we sat and chatted, getting additional restaurant recommendations for the following day, and enjoying our wine.
We don’t make it to San Francisco all that often, and Coi isn’t an every day option, but I would very much love to return and experience another menu from this stellar team – if the opportunity should arise, I would definitely considering returning for this same menu again. I’d have to make sure the same service team was working my table though – they really pulled program together.
Kudos Chef and Team.
I’ve written a bit about our recent trip to Oregon for IPNC and I want to tell one more tale. On our first day, at Coeur de Terre, the five winemakers talking about Earth, Wind and Sky: Ingredients of a Great Site for Pinot Noir, were asked several questions from the audience. The final question, came from a woman who had attended every single IPNC since inception – a feat matched only by one other — her husband.
Her question was technical, but not too technical for this crowd of connoisseurs. She wanted to know which Pinot clones were used in each of the wines we tasted. Each panelist answered with 777, Pommard, 115, 114, etc. There was a Frenchman on the panel who begrudgingly answered the question. He wasn’t rude, but he was a bit miffed. He answered, but then asked if the wine gave her pleasure.
He continued his answer by saying so much happens between the time the grapes are harvested, blended (blending various clones, estates, etc), aged, bottled then consumed. His belief was that people were putting to much stock into an individual clone. Again, he was gracious and accommodating.
We had dinner with this panelist our first night at the Grand Dinner and I asked him about the clone question. He was very excited to continue the conversation, starting off by saying he hates questions like that. He believed they are stupid questions where one asks the question just so they look like they are very knowledgeable about the subject. How is she going to use this information ever again in the future?
He reiterated that he wants to make wine that gives the drinkers pleasure. He continued with an analogy, which while I find very amusing, I disagree with. The following paragraph is a bit off color, so if you are easily offended, you probably shouldn’t read further, or read anything else I write. The analogy goes:
Imagine the pleasure you get from drinking a great wine. You don’t need to know what grape clone is in that wine for you to get pleasure from drinking that wine. Now imagine you are getting a blow job in a dark room. The blow job is amazing – you are really digging it. It’s the best blow job you’ve gotten in years. After you finish, you turn the lights on and you find out it was a goat blowing you. Does the fact that it was a goat giving you head diminish the pleasure? Does the fact that I used mostly 777 Pinot change how much you enjoy the wine? NO!
Like I said, I don’t actually agree with the goat analogy, but I do agree with the clone comments.
I’ve always said that IPNC isn’t a snobby event. It is full of down to Earth people who aren’t trying to show off. That being said, you do get the people who ask a question solely designed to show how smart they are, but then you get other side of the coin – an approachable Frenchman who will tell a goat blow job story at dinner.
Who do you agree with in regards to the goat blow job? Me or our French friend? What about wine – does the clone impact the pleasure you get from the wine itself?
Our second day at IPNC started off with some more bacon and pain au chocolat (again) along with some fruit. We decided to skip the Grand Seminar, which everyone said was a mistake. It turned out to be a great discussion on Australian wines. We’ve had one or two snoozer events in the past, so we decided to head off campus by ourselves and do some tastings on our own. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a place to taste at 09h00?
After leaving campus we found a place that was open and had a great view – Durant Vineyards and worked our way through the six wines they were tasting. We even ended up buying a few bottles and some olive oil. The views from Durant / Red Ridge Farm are breathtaking – it is a perfect view of the Willamette Valley.
After a quick morning tasting, we headed back to campus to enjoy the al fresco lunch. We sat with some Canadian friends we met at a prior IPNC – our table selection was completely random and honestly, we didn’t realize we knew them until we chatted for a few minutes.
At each meal you are seated with a wine maker. For lunch we sat with Jef from Dutton Goldfield located in Sebastopol. He told some great stories, not only about wine, but about his attempts to be a professional mogul skier, life with a toddler and surviving the recent Napa quake.
After lunch, we headed to the old Library on Campus where we attended a University of Pinot session titled Mindful Appreciation of Pinot Noir lead by Håkon Skurtveit, Head of Sensory Testing, Vinmonopolet from Oslo Norway. The wines we had were very good and a nice mix of both old and new world and the presentation was quite enthralling.
Following the University of Pinot, we headed back out to the Academic Quad where we tasted some rosé and rillettes. The pork rillette was created by the good people from Olympia Provisions and I ate more than my fair share. We also watched the Sparkling Wine Sabering demonstration where IPNC guests could try their hand at opening a bottle of bubbles in a non-traditional way. Some people used a saber, while others opted to use a more unique instrument, including: screw driver, a wrench, a shoe or even a three-hole-punch.
We planned on taking a nap, but that didn’t pan out as we ran into Scott and Lisa from Coeur de Terre during the Sabering demonstration and decided that we’d hang out the rest of the day tasting together. Great decision — naps are overrated.
The final meal at IPNC is a casual Salmon Bake Buffet with amazing food prepared by local chefs showcasing local ingredients – all designed to go with Pinot Noir, of course.
The end of the night, after the wine service is done, the late night folks crowd around the still burning coals from the Salmon Bake to tell stories, finish a glass of wine and reminisce of the wonderful weekend they’ve had.
Luckily our flight home was about 45 minutes later than prior years, so we could enjoy the Sparkling Brunch Finale which had a great mix of items including breakfast pastries, fruit, oysters, sushi and of course a ton of sparkling wines.
We always have so much fun at IPNC. Going just as a couple or with a group of friends brings different experiences, but no matter how you slice it, it is a great weekend and always a sad time when you drive off campus the final time. Until next time IPNC! Keep up the great work.