Oregon Wine Country...Youngberg Inn, Tapas, and French Bistros

After having had a wonderful visit with our family in Portland, enjoying our new baby nephew, Luca, exploring the fabulous "Saturday Market" along the river, and enjoying fresh Pacific salmon dinners, we took off intending to see the Oregon wine country.

Within 30 minutes south of Portland, Oregon, the urban landscape of the city transforms itself into bucolic, lush, green hills and valleys.

We drove along Rt. 5 heading into the Willamette Valley.  We noticed the many bikers pedaling along such beautiful scenic roads and we immediately thought of the french countryside...but it wasn't.  It was the countryside in Oregon and it captures a distinct American-style beauty.

We came upon farmstands selling all varieties of flowers, baked goods, and fresh produce.  Tall stately white barns dotted the landscape.

At times it was slow-going along these country roads as we crawled alongside the wild turkeys as they pretended cars were of no importance and they waddled passively along.

It seemed we were the only family out on these back country roads.  We rarely passed a car and were so grateful to have such a pleasant drive, windows open, fresh cool air flowing through the car.

This Llama farm certainly caught our attention.  Certainly not something we see every day...or any day!  What shaggy bangs and buck teeth they have and their very inquisitive stares made us laugh at our mutual curiosity of each other. 

We passed through the town of McMinnville on our way to our home-away-from-home for the next several days.  The town looked like a busy little town but at first glimpse, I can't say that we were too excited to stop and explore.

What we missed passing though was the adorable historic downtown area and we would find ourselves happily wandering back to McMinnville.

I try, when possible, to use Karen Brown's Travel Guide to choose a B&B.  She has yet to disappoint us with her carefully selected Inns and B&Bs.  They are usually out-of-the way spots that ooze with charm and hospitality.

As we turned down the long, hilly, windy little road to head up the graceful hill to Youngberg Hill Inn, I sensed a delightful discovery ahead.

We all paused at the front gates to gaze upon the sweet, winsome scene before us.  The long, windy drive only added to the approaching beauty of Youngberg Hill Inn perched high above rows and rows of grape vineyards.

Oh, thank you Karen Brown for providing us with another assured choice for our vacation!

As we rolled into the drive way, several cows lazily munched on green grass to our right, lifting their heads only briefly to see who had arrived.

The air was so sweet, cool, and quiet as we rang the bell to announce our arrival.  We could smell warm gooey chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen.  The sense of peacefulness that pervades the entire house is so welcoming and relaxing.

We were shown to our rooms, munching on a few warm cookies.  To my delight, a bottle of Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir wine greeted our arrival as a surprise birthday gift.  I was so tickled by this unexpected gift of hospitality.

The views from the rooms are spectacular.  Lush rolling hills of undulating vineyards stretch out so gracefully.  We were trying to take it all in from the balcony outside our room and just breathe the fresh air that sweeps over the hills.

We freshened up and made our way downstairs for a wine tasting session with the owner of Youngberg Hills, Wayne Bailey.  

What I thought was adorable, is several of the wines are named after the owner's three daughters, Natasha, Jordan, and Aspen.  What keepsakes to pass on to your children.

We chatted with another sweet couple.  The husband seemed the serious business type to me.  Early the next morning, he was tucked under a tree painting the scenery of the expansive vineyards in front of the house. He was a painter!  I love when people surprise me like that.

We were perfectly content to sit on the huge balcony overlooking all of the vineyards and sip our wine and soak up the ambiance of the inn.  

After all, the inn's resident sweet faced dog and licorice colored cat were both happily curled up and basking in the afternoon quiet.

The other couple, however, convinced us that if we didn't drive down into the quaint town of McMinnville, that we would miss out on a bustling town that is such a sweet slice of Americana.

They suggested several restaurants and we all thought a tapas restaurant would be different and fun.

La Rambla restaurant was indeed fun.  We found the historic square of McMinnville.  Quaint, charming, and relaxed are the first words that come to mind when describing the area.  Whereas the rest of McMinnville is busy and faster-paced, life transforms and slows its pace in the historic section.

Restaurants, shops, galleries, and small boutique hotels lined either side of the street.  La Rambla was humming with laughter and movement when we stepped inside.

La Rambla blends Spanish influenced dishes with the freshest ingredients from the Pacific Northwest.  My favorite dish was the stewed tomatoes with chorizo, corona beans, lima beans, and jamón.  (above)

At the bar area, I met a really nice gentleman.  He recommended that if we were looking for a place to relax and enjoy wine country, we should look into Youngberg Hill Inn. "Ha!  We are staying there!" I laughed.

He let me know that he is the executive chef (below) when the Inn holds group dinners in the dining room.  How fun to know...we chatted a bit about our mutual love of food and cooking.

La Rambla is named after a famous avenue in Barcelona.  The food is a specialty from the Iberian Peninsula of Spain.  The building was built in 1884 and is the oldest in McMinnville.  It originally was a town saloon.

But, moving on to desserts.  When we are traveling, we are "bad".  I mean...BAD.  All healthy considerations go out the window and dessert is almost never skipped.

We decided to try out the Caramel Apple Bread Pudding as well as a plate of the Churros with Dark Chocolate Sauce.  The Churros were much better than the ones we ate in Barcelona.  The bread pudding was definitely the winner.  Not too mushy, subtly flavored instead of overly sweet, and capped off by the warm caramel sauce for a touch of richness.

It was getting late and we knew we wanted to enjoy sunset at Youngberg Hill so we headed back the twisty charming country roads that climbed up into the wine region.

After glancing up and down the historic street of McMinnville, though, we definitely knew we would return the next day to try out another restaurant (or two) and do a bit of shopping.

We returned to the Inn to find chocolates on the bed, cool breezes blowing gently through the window, and the fireplace lit.  What a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy sunset.

And what a sunset.  The light softly lit up the valleys and hills as far as the eye could see.  The quiet was only momentarily interrupted by the mooing of the cows in the side pasture and the sweet giggling of the family's little girls playing along the hillside next door.

The next morning, there was no sleeping in.  We knew a hearty breakfast was being prepared downstairs.  Freshly brewed coffee could faintly be smelled wafting up.  

Running/walking clothes on, we took off down the long windy road that crosses the inn's 50 acres of land before hitting the main road.

Going down was a breeze, the air was crisp in the early morning and several deer decided to prance right across the road in front of us.

Coming back up was a whole different story.  Calves ached and thighs groaned...but we knew it was worth it and breakfast would be the reward.

After getting ready for the day, we sipped coffee on the balcony of our room.   We could faintly see Mt. St. Helen in the distance.  I think this was one of my favorite moments at the inn...just relaxing with a strong delicious cup of jo.

First of all, if you breakfast at Youngberg Hill Inn, you have to chat with Becky.  Becky pulls together the fabulous breakfast selections we enjoyed and chats about her life in McMinnville, her children, and what to see and do in wine country.  Thank you Becky for your cheerfulness and big smile!

All while overlooking the hills of vineyards outside, we ate sliced melon with delicious banana bread.  

We also had a very unique egg dish.  Becky whips the egg whites and spreads them over a pesto flavored english muffin.  Then, she carefully lays the egg yolks in the center of the nest of whites and bakes them in the oven.

We enjoyed not only the taste but the presentation of this egg dish.  Beautiful little chive flowers garnished the plate.

Another breakfast totally hit the spot with my kids.  This time Becky soaked slices of french baguette in eggs, added spiced apple slices with a touch of caramel, and baked the whole thing in the oven.  

That mouth-watering dish was served with a yogurt parfait with fresh granola, fruit, and cream topping.

After that hearty breakfast, we decided working it off with some strolling and shopping in McMinnville was in order.  We were headed to the coastline of Oregon next so we didn't want to miss the shops we saw the night before.

Dare I mention food again so soon after that breakfast, but we cruised right through lunch only to make the decision that Serendipity's Ice Cream parlor looked too good to pass up.

All I can say is, if you have a chance to order the Mocha Crema with Peanut butter topping - you won't be sorry.

How to describe McMinnville?  Charming at the same time having a bit of a hippi-vibe.  Couples sat relaxing at the many outdoor tables, sipping on hot coffee while skate boarders and young people went zipping by.  

Antique cars rolled stately along the main avenue right next to patched but character-marked volkswagons dotting the street.

One restaurant where we made a reservation before the trip, really caught my attention while researching this town.  

Bistro Maison.

Bistro Maison is tucked around a side street in the historic district.  It is an authentic french bistro started by frenchman Chef Jean-Jacques.  He and his wife have brought their knowledge from working in Paris, Rome, and New York City to the town of McMinnville, Oregon.

Flowering bushes lined the street spilling onto the side walk.  The little front porch of the restaurant looked as inviting as arriving at grandma's house.

The front door creaked open and we instantly knew this bistro could be a good choice for us.

And it was...

First of all, the hot french baguettes with the creamy butter that was brought to the table was some of the best bread we tasted in the U.S.  

We savored a delicious sweet potato, red spinach cream soup that M. is asking me try and duplicate.  Also, the french onion soup was delicious and always a favorite of ours.

Chef Jean-Jacques stepped out and we were able to tell him how much we enjoyed his restaurant and his food.  The atmosphere of Bistro Maison is decidedly American on the outside but, oh la la, very french à l'intérieur!

I enjoyed a savory quiche with a roasted beet side salad.  So much on the menu called out to us and I would love to return to Bistro Maison to sample more of their delicious food.

A charming little back garden was being set up for diners to gather there.  Flowers hung randomly over the little walk way and seating areas creating a cozy natural garden setting.  

We enjoyed a beautiful bowl of fresh hazelnuts that was place on the table at the end of the meal.  We had been driving by rows upon rows of hazelnut orchards.  Hazelnut orchards are beautiful as they create such softly lit canopies of light in between their branches.  

Oh, sweet Oregon, your charms are certainly working on this family.  How could there be a rugged wild coastline only 45 minutes away from this gentle pastoral landscape.

It was bittersweet leaving the inn and the wine country of McMinnville but just as Oregon has delighted us at every turn thus far...the Oregon coastline, we would would find out is just as expansive, equally captivating, and so wild and free!

Sweet Potato and Spinach Cream Soup
(this is not the soup from Bistro Maison but another similar recipe)

  • 4 cups spinach leaves
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes, diced ¼-inch
  • 1 cup julienned smoked sausage
  • ½ cup margarine
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup diced garlic
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 quarts defatted chicken stock
  • 1 quart heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup sliced chives
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • dash of hot sauce
Wash spinach leaves to remove any sand or grit and finely chop into ¼-inch squares. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, melt margarine over medium-high heat. Add smoked sausage, onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic. Sauté 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Sprinkle in flour and, using a wire whisk, stir vegetable mixture to form a blonde roux. Add chicken stock, one ladle at a time, whisking constantly until soup consistency is achieved. Add sweet potatoes. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer and cook approximately 20 minutes. Add spinach and cook approximately 10 additional minutes. Additional stock may be added to retain proper consistency. Add heavy whipping cream, chives and parsley. Season to taste using salt, pepper and hot sauce. Once potatoes are tender, serve in individual soup bowls and garnish with finely chopped spinach.

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