My most vivid memory of the lovely Bistro Maison is that they taught me something about mushrooms that directly contradicted a strong and long-held opinion. More about that in a moment.
Bistro Maison is a cozy, warm and friendly French restaurant in the city of McMinnville, in the middle of one of Oregon's best wine-producing areas and an easy drive from Portland and Salem. It's not pretentious, as French restaurants can often be. And we found it almost by accident. It was early in December, 2010, and we'd initially gone to another restaurant nearby, but had been put off by a wait, a diffident greeting at the door, and high prices on a chalk board menu (they had no printed ones) that we found uninspiring. No, we won't identify the place; we only publish favorable reviews, because restaurants can and do go through rough patches, and possibly that was the case here. But on this night, we decided to go elsewhere.
So a few minutes later, we were standing outside Bistro Maison, reading the display menu. And a passerby stopped and asked, "Are you going to eat there?" We said we hadn't decided yet. "You should," he replied. "You won't be disappointed!" An unsolicited recommendation is almost always a good portent. "OK," we shrugged, and in we went.
Bistro Maison was the venue
for a lovely French meal during the holidays.
Our arrival could hardly have been more different. We were immediately greeted with a warm smile and shown to a nice table, despite the fact that they were busy and we lacked reservations. Water, wine list and menus were quickly brought, with a friendly offer of help should we need it. We began to peruse the menu, and almost immediately, my mushroom-seeking eye fell on a seasonal special: a thick, hazelnut-crusted Carlton Farms pork chop, topped with lobster mushroom sauce. And I was suddenly faced with a dilemma.
We have never been impressed with lobster mushrooms. Yes, they are bright and showy, and yes, they are often plentiful, but when we first started mushrooming we tried them several times and were decidedly unimpressed. Bland and not much flavor, we thought, and we weren't fond of the texture either. With so many genuinely good mushrooms available, we thought, why bother with lobsters?
We have carried around that bias for well over 20 years, routinely passing them up in the woods by the score, and wondering what others saw in them.
And now we are confronted with a menu item featuring lobster mushrooms. Will it turn out to be a disappointment, as I fully expect it to be? I voiced my concern about lobsters to the very knowledgeable server, and she said with a knowing smile, "just try it." And so we did. And it absolutely knocked our socks off. Only good manners kept me from licking the plate clean.
So much for strongly-held opinions My epitaph will probably be, "Often wrong, but never in doubt."
Everything else about our meal there was delightful, but it is that wonderful, thick, juicy pork chop with lobster mushrooms that sticks in my memory. It will stick in yours, too, if you're fortunate enough to visit in the fall or early winter. But don't delay your visit for that reason; they do special things with spring mushrooms, too. In fact, I suspect everything that comes out of that kitchen is pretty special... and, to think we found them by accident. Now, you won't have to!
729 E. Third Street
McMinnville, OR 97128