Best Food I Ever Ate

Osetra Caviar

Have you ever seen Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”? As described by the foodie cable channel, “It’s the ultimate guide to the country’s most amazing meals, eats, and treats as told by the pros who spend their lives obsessing over food … featuring some of your favorite Food Network stars, offering a taste of the things you must try before you die.”

What does this program have to do with Oregon wine? Well, OWP wanted to give readers a peek into what Oregon’s winemakers have tried — and fell in love with — at the many restaurants they have visited locally and around the globe. From more than a few foie gras epiphanies to a heart-stopping hoagie in New Jersey, Oregon’s winemakers know a favorite food when they eat it.  

Todd Hamina • Biggio Hamina Cellars, McMinnville 

“Last summer, I’m in Houston for a PBS fundraiser and eating this awesome smoked pork all night. At the end of the evening, we’re hanging out in the kitchen when the chef busts out this tin of Malossol Osetra caviar... I have a lone bottle of my Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne in my bag. The combination of those two elements created a rift in time; they were so delicious.”

Tina Hammond • Privé Vineyard & Winery 

“My husband, Mark, and I had delivered wine to a restaurant in Portland and decided to stay for dinner. At the time, it was called Lucere and located in the beautiful River Place Hotel overlooking the Willamette River. Chef Jeff Quartararo asked if he might surprise us with something special. And that he did! It was my first properly prepared foie gras. The dish was seared foie gras over soaked brioche, tossed with dried currants and drizzled with the Sauternes that was served with it. It was truly an epiphany for me. I have since loved foie gras, but never have had the angels sing like they did that fine day.” 

Ken Cook • Cherry Hill Winery, Salem 

“The King Estate burger with foie gras and truffled fries from the winery’s restaurant is the best thing I have ever eaten. This burger — so rich and decadent — is served medium-rare with melted Tillimook cheese, peppered bacon, pickled red onions and a slab of foie gras, all served on a homemade, soft, buttery Brioche bun. Add to this the bistro-style truffled french fries served in a traditional paper cone, and the combination is to die for. Throw in a glass or two of Oregon Pinot Noir, and you have a match made in heaven.” 

Brian O’Donnell • Belle Pente Winery, Carlton 

“I’ve had lots of incredible meals in great restaurants around the country, many of which are good customers of Belle Pente. It’s a bit like trying to choose the “best” piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having said that, I will have to give the nod to the Peking duck we had at Dadong in Dongcheng, Beijing last year. Duck is one of my favorite dishes, but it tends to disappoint as often as it delights. This dish at the Dongsi branch of this popular restaurant was perfect in every way. It is truly a special experience to enjoy a spot-on rendition of a city’s signature dish “in situ!”

Steve Styring • Styring Vineyards, Newberg 

“Grilled cracked bone marrow on toast served in Paris with Styring Vineyards 2008 Estate — I brought a case of Styring wine to Italy and France last summer.”

Laura Lotspeich • Trium Wine, Talent

“It was a fig-cured, hickory-smoked duck breast salad with toasted hazelnuts, Rogue Creamery blue cheese, caramelized shallot dressing and duck skin cracklings over baby greens and arugula, served with our very own Trium 2003 Growers Cuvée on the deck of the tasting room overlooking the amazing view of the Rogue Valley. The salad was created and prepared by Ryan Gabel, who grew up here at the vineyard and has rewarded us with amazing culinary skills and has moved on to operate his own restaurants.” 

Andrew Wenzl • Abacela, Roseburg 

“Some of the best meals are very simple in terms of ingredients, so it is often the freshness of ingredients and the company you’re with that makes them so memorable. One of the most incredible winemaker dinners I ever participated in was with Creative Catering of Winston, Oregon. Among the pairings were frog legs paired with our Viognier, and wild boar with a cherry reduction sauce paired with our Malbec. I believe it was the outside-the-box thinking that really made those dishes stand out for me.”

Howard Mozeico • Et Fille Wines, Sherwood 

“About 20 years ago on a business trip to Europe, my wife and I took a side trip to Grenoble to visit a friend, Joe. He had married a French woman, Annie, whose parents lived in Pau near the Spanish border. Part of dinner was foie gras. Neither my wife, nor I, had ever eaten it, and we were a tad put off by the thought of eating innards. With the first bite, foie gras rose from not being on the list of our favorite foods to the top. Soft and rich, with the flavors accented by a bit of sea salt and a glass of a Jurançon dessert wine. Superb.”

Thomas Houseman • Anne Amie Vineyards, Carlton 

“When I was a child, I used to roll my red wagon the few blocks from my house to the Chesapeake Bay. On low tides, I’d walk out onto the black muck that was the bottom of the bay and pick up rock-sized clusters of oysters. I’d cart my wagon home, and my poor, patient parents would help me clean them. We often fired up the barbecue and ate these briny creatures simply. In 2007, I was lucky enough to run into the flavors of my youth captured in a way that crystallized what I remembered, but refined them in a way I could never have imagined. Chef Lee of the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., creates a dish that he calls ‘Char-Grilled Oysters’ that is sublime. I have dined at many tables, but this one dish triggers a wash of memories so strong that it rises above any other one dish I can recall.” 

Matt Sorensen • LongSword Vineyard, Jacksonville 

“The best meal I ever had was sushi at a very small sushi restaurant right at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo in 1995. It was my first introduction to sushi, and I’ve never found anything better.”

Lynn Penner-Ash • Penner-Ash Cellars, Newberg 

“The best meal I ever had was a fresh hardboiled egg at Base Camp on Mt. Everest – we’d been eating dhal and green tea for days on end and were treated to hardboiled eggs one morning. We had hauled a pound of Peet’s Coffee up and asked our guide to make us Cowboy Coffee that morning, too. It was a special day with such a simple meal in an exotic location.”

Mark Nicholl • William Rose Wines, Eugene 

“It was on the second terrace of a friend’s gorgeous house at the top of the valley of the village of Saint-Émilion. My friend, Robin, and his family treated me with the most delicious hospitality. His mother had created a very simple meal of salad and the lightest, most delicate yet flavorful soufflé au fromagé paired with a number of 30- to 40-year-old wines raided from the family’s cave for the occasion. Soul-satisfying. That was almost six years ago, and I can still taste it.”

Vikki Wetle • Amity Vineyards, Amity 

“After traveling around the world, literally, and eating in many countries, the meal that blew my socks off was at the Blue Goat in Amity. It was a chicken potpie that just exploded with flavor. It is amazing to me that we have such a wonderful eatery in Amity.”

Remy Drabkin • Remy Wines, McMinnville

 “I grew up in Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville. My weekends, summers and every day after school were spent in the dining room and kitchen, helping pick parsley or basil, setting tables, and watching Nick mix huge portions of pasta dough and roll them out on the longest table I had ever and have ever seen. Many of you have probably had Nick’s ravioli and know how divine they are when swimming with sage and a bit of butter on your plate, but the best thing I ever ate was prepared by Nick’s mom, Georgia. On ravioli days, the top of that long table would be filled with three sheets of pasta – each of them the length of the table. The spinach filling would be spread evenly across them, then another sheet of pasta on top. Using a rolling pin with square cutouts, Nick would form the basic shape of the ravioli and then cut them out. The by-products of this process were thin strips of semi-filled pasta dough each about the width of a pencil. Most were brushed into the garbage, but Grandma Georgia would always take a plateful (or two) and fry them in butter or olive oil. They were sweet, crispy, savory … divine.”

Scott Wright • Scott Paul Wines, Carlton 

“The best thing I ever ate may just be the perfect scoop of dark chocolate gelato with salted caramel at the little shop just off the square in Verona last summer. Or it could be the truffle menu at the original Alain Ducasse in Paris in the mid-’90s. Or, maybe, the foie gras five-ways with a bottle of ’61 Krug at Gerard Boyer in Champagne. … Then again, it could have been the burger and fries at Little Bird last week. What can I say, I like to eat.” 

Tahmiene Momtazi • Maysara Winery, McMinnville  

“The best sandwich I’ve had was in Princeton, New Jersey, at Hoagie Haven. My go-to sandwich is called the Sanchez and I order it ‘extra dirty,’ meaning more special Sanchez sauce. The Sanchez has a chicken cutlet, American cheese, mozzarella sticks and fries with the magic Sanchez sauce. Yes, I said it fries inside the sandwich! The grease on this bad boy goes well with a bottle of Chablis. After eating it, you could totally have a cardiac arrest, which is ironic because they have an actual sandwich called The Heart Stopper.”

Rachel L. Rose • Bryn Mawr Vineyards, Salem 

“My number-one most extraordinary fancy-pants meal was in New Orleans at Gautreau’s. I finally understood what the French had to do with Cajun. The meal included, among many heavenly courses, frog legs in a cream tarragon sauce. Of course, I knew it would be excellent, but still unsure because they were frogs, after all. I was rewarded for my curiosity, and to this day whenever I use fresh tarragon I think of that meal in a very, very, good way.”

Tom Fitzpatrick • Alloro Vineyard, Sherwood 

“It was September 2000 in Florence, Italy. We had 30 minutes to return a rental car and run to catch a train. We dodged into a suspicious-looking convenience store with the hope of grabbing something to eat for the ride. They had just prepared some pizza. We were blown away when we took our first bite. Homemade focaccia topped with a mélange of fresh-diced tomatoes, garlic, a bit of onions, and a wonderful grassy olive oil, all dusted with a blend of Italian spices. Simple, fresh, delicious. The passing Tuscan countryside may have had some influence, but I think not.” 

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