HOOD RIVER, Ore. — When Ben Stenn landed in 1993, Hood River was just starting to catch the wave of outdoors enthusiasts, the wine industry hadn't begun to grow and the suburbs of Portland were still an hour away.
Yet, he and business partner Maui Meyer saw Hood River was ripe for a new type of restaurant - Sixth Street Bistro. It combined local ingredients and some regional wines with casual dining, and the concept took off in the Columbia Gorge much like a kiteboarder.
So in 2005, Stenn, Meyer and Jacqueline Carey gambled again, launching Celilo Restaurant and Bar just a few blocks to the east.
"Celilo is a new opportunity," Stenn said. "The town has established itself as a great dining town and that's allowed us to stretch our boundaries a bit more. What we were most excited about - and we established that at Sixth Street - is the connection to our local food environment. We are able to live this whole local cuisine theory."
And that carries on through to Carey's wine list.
"When I started at Sixth Street in 1996, a lot of the list was California because there weren't too many wineries around here," said Carey, who moved from hostess to waitress to manager and is now a part-owner. "Gradually, we thought, 'We don't have to do this anymore!' There's nothing wrong with imports, but as the agriculture and wine in the area have grown, we want to support that. We streamlined the list to Pacific Northwest wines, and that was an easy channel to grow."
Those businesses that focus on being local also seem to be weathering the recession.
"With the economy, a lot of folks are staying home, so an hour-trip to the coast or an hour trip to Hood River is becoming more appealing," Carey said. "We also have a great relationship with the Hood River Hotel right across the street. We're even seeing a lot of people from Portland become regulars. Sometimes, they'll just come out for dinner and drive back home."
Carey fancies 375-millilter bottles - she lists a dozen from the Northwest - and that's a boon for her guests. Winemaker dinners have been a draw, too, and the cast has included Basel Cellars, Fidelitas, Penner-Ash, Andrew Rich, Charles Smith, Syncline and Woodward Canyon.
One of Carey's strongest supporters - starting with the Sixth Street days - is Sineann's acclaimed Peter Rosback, who makes wine for several wineries in the Columbia Gorge.
"We've been buying Peter's wines for a dozen years, so when he offered to make us a house Pinot Noir, we jumped at the chance," Carey said. "He even wanted our label on it."
These days, Carey sits back and smiles at where life has taken her.
"I grew up on Cape Cod, and my father is in the restaurant business. I swore I'd never do it," she said with a chuckle. "But here I am. I received an English degree from the University of Colorado and a good friend of mine from college, who was moving to Hood River, convinced me it was a good idea. In 1993, I signed a six-month lease, took a job at Mount Hood, had a great time and moved here. I literally saw tumbleweeds rolling down the street back then."
Earlier this year, they sold Sixth Street to their longtime bartender, so Stenn could devote more time to his family and Celilo's food sources. It showed in his Match Maker pairing to the Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs - Lamb Carpaccio with Roasted Beets and Coriander Vinaigrette.
"We've just entered our beet mode here at Celilo, and we have our roasted beet salad on the menu, but when we tasted the Domaine Ste. Michelle Blancs de Blancs it needed more than just the beets," Stenn said. "The dish, as we had it, had a salty cheese with it, and that was not a good pairing, but the wine has a toastiness that's traditional to the style. That got me thinking about coriander.
"We use coriander with the Lamb Carpaccio, so I thought, 'This is coming along nicely,' Stenn continued. "The dish is a lamb tenderloin with a dusting of coarsely ground coriander on the exterior that gets seared on."
He pointed out the light flavors and bright acidity were critical as to not overwhelm the delicate lamb. There's an earthiness to the beets, and the sparkler brought out even more sweetness in the purple root. Coriander is akin to a white peppercorn and accented the lemony notes of the wine. Apple notes in the bubbly reminded Stenn and Carey of orchard fruit produced in the Hood River Valley, adding to the theme.
"The lamb in this dish is from Cattail Creek (in Junction City, Ore.), and I have a great relationship with John Neumeister. The beets are from Prairie Creek Farm (Joseph), which is Gene Thiel. He's an anchor of food growing in Oregon. The microgreens come from Chris Wells' White Oak Woodland in Goldendale.
"I personally received the delivery of these things from these people, and I feel a great sense of pride in that," Stenn added. "To me, that is what Celilo is about. It's a success because of those relationships.
Celilo Restaurant and Bar, 16 Oak St., Hood River, Ore., 97031, 541-386-5710, celilorestaurant.com.
Brick 29 Bistro
NAMPA - When Dustan Bristol told far-flung friends he was launching his own restaurant, some couldn't believe their ears.
"Really! You're opening a place in Napa?!! That's awesome!"
The Idaho native quickly corrected them.
"No, that's Nampa with an 'M,' not Napa," he recalls with a smile.
Step inside Brick 29 Bistro and the surroundings seem closer to what you'd expect to find in America's most famous wine region rather than the Snake River Valley.
"I'd love for this appellation and valley to become the next Walla Walla, and I'd like to trailblaze it," Bristol said.
He's quickly developed in roads with Idaho's wineries, which refer their customers to Brick 29.
"It's kind of funny when the best food in the valley is in Nampa rather than Boise," said Gina Davis, winemaker for Davis Creek Cellars in nearby Caldwell.
Bristol's cuisine continues to gain critical acclaim. He was Idaho's lone nominee for the James Beard Foundation's 2009 Best Northwest Chef award, one of 20 semifinalists from six states. And last year, the Coeur d'Alene native won the Iron Chef Boise at Qwest Arena - toppling three-time champion Jered Couch of Eagle's SixOneSix.
"It was Jered's first competition since they retired him, and I stomped him," Bristol said, served with a smirk and a side of playful bravado.
On this afternoon, the staff at Brick 29 prepped for dinner while listening to the radio broadcast of the Idaho vs. Boise State football game. Bristol didn't seem to mind. He credits BSU's culinary program with helping him to define his desires and design his future by age 25.
"I applied and got accepted to a good school back East, but I made too much money at the time working at a sawmill," he said. "Later, I decided to go to an in-state school - BSU - become poor and move on.
"A school won't teach you creativity, a sense of urgency or drive," he added. "It's either internal or not. I realized that about myself and got rooted in the valley. I've been here since."
He built his resume at some of Boise's best - Berryhill & Co., Murphy's Seafood Bar & Grill and the Sandpiper. His reputation drew the attention of Treasure Valley developer Mike Mussell, who had his eye on Nampa's historic Masonic Lodge.
"It had been for sale for seven or eight years, and he wanted to buy the building, develop it and have renters immediately," Bristol said. "I told him I loved the layout; I did a business plan and he funded me."
Brick 29 Bistro became the key tenant of the Masonic Event Center, built in 1919.
"This was Lodge No. 29, so we named the restaurant after the lodge," Bristol said. "And 29 is copper on the periodic chart, so I used it for my logo and for color tones throughout the restaurant."
Bristol, who designed and decorated the interior, and his wife, Keela, haven't looked back since opening in May 2007. Business is growing, and he expects $2 million in revenue for 2009.
"I think recession makes everybody a little smarter, and we've also diversified," he said. "We never say 'no' to an event or catering. And we've started going to the market with retail products. We do soups, and our big hit right now is a really killer bacon. We've been packaging that and selling 200 pounds a week. We want to retail that and go to grocery stories with it by next year."
Another key to his business is the symbiotic relationship with the Idaho wine industry, which gained national recognition when the Snake River Valley AVA was approved about the time of Brick 29's debut.
"That will attract more winemakers to the valley, which is good for me," Bristol said. "I think I'm pushing the outer edge of Boise even closer to the winemakers, and I support the winemakers by putting their wines on my list. They support me by giving me functions and parties, and telling anybody who passes through to dine this way."
Those wanting to savor Idaho wines have many to choose from. Brick 29 won Wine Press Northwest's 2009 Best Idaho Wine List award, which features at least one wine from more than 20 Gem State wineries. That represents about half of the state's wineries.
"He's given us a restaurant where our wines are featured well because they are paired with awesome food," Davis said. "It's important for local wine to be paired with local food, and he's doing it in a way that no one else is really doing here."
That list also includes wines from Oregon and Washington. When Bristol finds something during his travels, he's passionate to add it.
"We were touring the Horse Heaven Hills, stopped at Alexandria Nicole Cellars and I loved their Quarry Butte," he said. "It turns out they didn't have distribution in Idaho yet, but I managed to get it in."
To say he's driven is an understatement.
"I like to go fast," he said. "I boat and I motorcycle. I ride a Carefree Custom that's like a Harley Softail - big motor, flashy paint, big fat tire and real loud."
Bristol didn't hold back on his Match Maker assignment as he shared that Iron Chef Boise recipe.
"The dish is basically four ingredients - squash, pear, trout and lentils - all Idaho," he said. "I did a Middle Eastern take on it with garam masala-rubbed trout roulade, lentil hummus, garlic squash and pear cardamom foam."
And Domaine Ste. Michelle's nonvintage Blanc de Blancs sparkler proved an ideal foil, Bristol said.
"I think that for the most part Champagne is underappreciated. It goes great with just about every dish and not just for special occasions," he said. "The wine was great because I can pick up a little bit of garam masala aromas in it. And I tasted notes of pear, so I utilized pear in two elements of the dish."
Pulling off a winning combination didn't surprise the winemaker Davis.
"Idaho Preferred - a state organization - uses Dustan as the chef for a lot of their events, so we always know it's going to be a good event with good food to go with our wines," Davis said. "We don't have to worry."
Brick 29 Bistro, 320 11th Ave. South, Nampa, ID, 83651, 208-468-0029, brick29.com.e
ERIC DEGERMAN is Wine Press Northwest's managing editor. Have a suggestion for a future Match Maker? E-mail him at email@example.com.