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New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro


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We've been hearing about New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro in Talent, Oregon, for about a year, and finally organized a short Oregon trip to conclude with a visit on New Year's Eve. All we knew in advance was that there would be a special menu costing more than usual, and that the restaurant was hard to find.

A restaurant that plays hard to get naturally attracts attention, as with Ma Maison in 1970's LA, whose phone was unlisted. But an unlisted phone can't compare with invisibility. When we passed through Talent on our way in, it was mid afternoon, and, fore-warned, we decided to locate Sammy's while there was light. But after passing through town once each direction, we asked a cop. To all appearances, it is an abandoned roadside bar, paint peeling, with an ancient electric-bulb arrow above the entrance. There is no sign, indeed no indication of habitation at all. Returning that night, however, there were cars parked around, and the arrow sign was operating, albeit with several burnt-out bulbs.

Still, there was a moment of doubt, as opening the door, we stepped into a dark little chamber the size of a walk-in closet. Bravely, we pressed on, and entered a low-ceilinged cluster of tiny dining nooks. Much about Sammy's is funky, in the way one might expect a back-country café to be. But nothing in the ambience prepared us for the meal. Drappier Carte D'Or, a French champagne, was the only wine served, and flutes were refilled by Vernon Rollins as soon as they were empty. A blanc de noir, it was perfect for the meal, except perhaps for the amuse bouche, a perfect single sushi of flying fish roe scented with cucumber.

In the six courses that followed, Charlene Rollins moved in a careful orchestration from complex to simple, but always with the deliberation of a master chef.

First, in an egg cup, an eggshell was filled with custard laced with white truffle, topped with a splash of California sturgeon caviar; on the plate, a thin crisp wafer of potato pancake was accompanied by a savory purée of celeriac, a dollop of crème fraîche, and more caviar. Served with a tiny spoon for the custard, it was at once magnificent and delicate. Flavors chased each other across the tongue.

Shellfish consumé was amazing. A distilled essence of crab, mussel, clam, and shrimp, the shells oven-roasted, a near-black, evil broth that spoke of storms and surf-battered sea cliffs and shipwrecks. Floating in it was a delicate waif of crab cake, almost nothing but crab shreds bound with a little egg, topped with saffron and cayenne scented mayonnaise. An adventurous, dangerous course.

A striking way to shift the palate spectrum was a salad of pear, with baby greens, spiced walnuts, and dried sour cherries reconstituted in kirsch. Dressed with a truffle oil vinaigrette, this was as light and vibrant as the previous dish was intense and dark. And topping it was one of the most remarkable things we've yet tasted: a quarter-inch medallion of foie gras that Rollins had cured in brine – uncooked, pink, and needing no condiment. We've tasted a fair amount of foie gras, and this was in a class by itself.

From complexity the meal descended to simple, at least to the casual diner. Beef tenderloin was plain, but perfect: rare, oven roasted Niman Ranch beef, sliced into butter-tender steaks, with a chanterelle wine reduction, served with fingerling Japanese baby sweet potatoes, and a rather amazing risotto of pearl rice and tiny black eye peas (from the Rollins's own garden), whimsically called "hoppin' john." (Hopping John is a traditional New Years Day dish in the South – rice, black eye peas, and ham hocks.) An effective concept, with "al dente" texture provided by the baby peas. And of course, "simple" in the hands of a master chef is never really simple.

Dessert was at once simple and more complicated: "Italian nut torte with passion fruit sherbet and honey ice cream." Totally counter-intuitive. It almost doesn't work. But if you carefully take one small bite of torte, then a dab of the sour sherbet, and finish with the same amount of honey ice cream, it's a dazzling experience. In other words, follow the specific order of the menu description; any other sequence fails: the honey is too cloying to start, the passion fruit too sour.

After-dinner truffles were delicious but unneeded. Espresso was served with clear shards of crystallized sugar.

Despite the lavish nature of the meal, the true luxury was in concept and labor, not food cost. To our thinking, the meal nominates Charlene Rollins as one of the most imaginative chefs in the country. Thomas Keller is the proper peer for this cook, even though it's a league she may not want to play in. Vernon Rollins is reputedly equally imaginative with wines, and it's certainly to his credit that he chose to accompany the meal soley with a good Champagne.

I've called to ask their hours, and they limit dinner to Friday and Saturday until February, when they will expand to a Thursday-Sunday schedule.

541.539.2779. Plan on staying in Ashland, just south.

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So I've heard of things served in eggshells, but I've never experienced such a thing.  When eating it, do you have to be really careful not to have shards of shell in your custard?  (I ask this after having a shard-laced oyster last weekend...)

No, there was no hint of shell.

I don't know whether the shell might have been baked before filling. Of course, the top fourth of it was removed (there are tools for doing exactly that). I have a hunch the custard might have been filled in the shell first, then steamed.

Here in Humboldt County, the problem is crab shell in your picked crab. Sometimes it even gets past both of us into the crab cake. :sad:

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So I've heard of things served in eggshells, but I've never experienced such a thing.  When eating it, do you have to be really careful not to have shards of shell in your custard?  (I ask this after having a shard-laced oyster last weekend...)

No, there was no hint of shell.

I don't know whether the shell might have been baked before filling. Of course, the top fourth of it was removed (there are tools for doing exactly that). I have a hunch the custard might have been filled in the shell first, then steamed.

I have a Zyliss Egg Topper which generally works quite well. I mostly use it for soft-boiled eggs, but it's also good for anything you want to present in an egg shell. Sometimes you get a few shards, but they are easy to see and remove before presentation.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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I don't seem to be able to edit the original post, but I've been informed that the correct area code is 535, not 541.

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Is this in the same space Chata used to occupy?

Hi ya Malarkey. It's a little bit further south, as pictured in this article:

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c.../24/CM73357.DTL

The Right Phone #: 541-535-2779

and if any of you aspiring back to the woods chefs need an outlet, the currently vacant Chata is for sale-ready to go restuarant/bar space in a house.

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  • 2 years later...
We had our first meal there a few weeks ago. It was superb. Everything was made just perfectly.

This is encouraging. We're planning what may be a regular Xmas week trip. Over the mountains from the coast via 199 from Humboldt. It's four hours, about the same as it would take to Napa or Sonoma, and about half the price, to say nothing of accommodations.

In the same county is Jacksonville, which has a Kosher Jewish deli that makes their own corned beef, pastrami, matzo ball soup, all splendid and distinctive. MacLevin's, downtown, next to a big cooking supply store. A perfect after-Sammy's brunch. On the way there you pass Central Point, home of Rogue Creamery, which features some of the best blue cheeses in the country. Try their Oregonzola.

There's also an excellent breakfast place in Ashland, with fresh-squeezed juice, original concepts, and perfect execution, Morning Glory, across from the college.

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I'm eating at New Sammys next week and will try to report back how it was.

The Rogue Creamery makes some of the finest Blue cheese in the world. No kidding!

The regular Oregonzola, Crater Lake Blue, and smoked and flavored cheeses are very good, but the real winner is the Rogue River Gold, wrapped in Clear Creek Eaux de Vie-soaked grape leaves, and released about this time every year. People who have heard about the quality of this cheese sometimes are a little disappointed that the regular cheeses aren't quite as Roquefort-like and intense as they've been led to expect, which is why to experience the absolute best of what this fine producer makes, try to find the grape leaf-wrapped Rogue River! All the other cheeses they make are excellent, and I buy them regularly, but this particular annually-released cheese is, to my taste, truly the equal of ANY Roquefort that I have had. It is rare, expensive, and worth its weight in gold!!

-Cole

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....To experience the absolute best of what this fine producer makes, try to find the grape leaf-wrapped Rogue River! All the other cheeses they make are excellent, and I buy them regularly, but this particular annually-released cheese is, to my taste, truly the equal of ANY Roquefort that I have had. It is rare, expensive, and worth its weight in gold!!

-Cole

Cole is on the mark about Rogue River Blue, easily the best American blue ever made. The reason I didn't mention it is that it is produced in small quantities, and not sold commercially. You must go to the Creamery in person, and sign up for a subscription, with 1-day delivery by FedEx when the cheese is released (needless to say, this is not cheap). And then you need to stay on top of it, or risk losing your place! This is cumbersome for most people. What's the use of praising something few can taste?

That said, it won the gold medal for the world's best blue in London in 2004, and you can imagine how French cheese makers loved that! :biggrin:

And while it is a special cheese, spectacular at its best, it is not equally good every year. We have had Roquefort that was better, and Blue d'Auvergne that was equal. That's part of the glory of the great cheeses, that they are active, vibrant, and not routine or necessarily "consistent".

But if you are traveling to southern Oregon for New Sammy's, it might be worthwhile to stop at Central Point, and get your name on that list. Being on it does not obligate you to purchase, simply offers the opportunity.

Joseph

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Joseph (byrdhouse) is quite correct about the limited availability of this delicacy . . . though I will note that there have been times, recently in fact, that the cheese was available over the counter at a few select outlets in Portland. The Market of Choice in my SW neighborhood had some just two weeks ago (I think I'll pop by tonight and see if there's any left! Umm, yeah, right . . .).

I confess I haven't had it frequently enough to note the quality differences Joseph describes . . . call it vintage variation?? . . . but when I first tried it, and on subsequent occasions, I have been amazed at its comparability to Roqueforts I am familiar with. Joseph's comments have me intrigued to "monitor" it over coming years . . . if I can get some!

-Cole

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