Exploring Southern Oregon: Alchemy Restaurant and The Winchester Inn
Ashland, OR. — Its moniker may be inspired by San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House because of its expansion in fits and starts over the years, but unlike its namesake the Winchester Inn is as far from kitschy and haphazard as it gets.
Instead, this stately Victorian inn boasts not only real history, but beautifully appointed rooms and suites, as well as a critically acclaimed restaurant on site, Alchemy, that has been honored with a Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence.”
Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay and dine there as a guest of Travel Oregon.
Comprised of a series of historic homes, the inn’s main house was actually the first hospital in Southern Oregon. Back then, it was located on Main Street. But in 1910, it was moved up the hill to its current S. Second Street location.
Rooms are available in the main house, in separate cottages, and across the street, which is where we stayed in one of the new suites above the inn’s other restaurant, the steakhouse Chateaubriand 36.
Ample in size, the suite was nearly as big as some apartments I’ve lived in. It came complete with a wet bar with fridge, compact dining area, and sunny living room. Every evening, chocolate bonbons are left in your room to enjoy, too.
Just note that because the inn is on a hill, though, the walk to some of the rooms may be a little challenging for some.
Additionally, your stay includes a complimentary two-course gourmet breakfast each morning at Alchemy. Enjoy it in the dining room or outside on the lovely porch.
Each breakfast starts with a house-baked pastry such as a fluffy cinnamon roll or crisp and golden currant scone, served with seasonal fruit.
Choose your second course from a variety of offerings that change from day to day. They may include a French omelet with sauteed mushrooms and Tillamook white cheddar with crispy (and I mean crispy) potatoes; steel-cut oatmeal garnished with Oregon huckleberries; a classic Benedict given a new spin with yuzu hollandaise; and a personal size frittata stuffed with goat cheese, shallots and sauteed asparagus, and crowned with dressed arugula.
If that doesn’t set you up for a smashing day, nothing will.
The inn is ideally situated if you want to be able to walk downtown easily or take in performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Theater, which is a mere two blocks away. Let your server at Alchemy know that you’re attending a show, and they will ensure you get done in plenty of time.
Restaurants at inns are sometimes an afterthought. Not so here. Alchemy is a destination in its own right. You’re sure to be impressed with the quality of food created by Chef Michael Bryant and his wife, Pastry Chef Sarah Pineda.
Do indulge your carb love by ordering the artisan local bread assortment ($8 for two; $14 for four), which not only includes four types of bread, but a trio of butters that are dangerously good. They include cultured butter, bone marrow butter, and black garlic-salsa verde butter. The bone marrow butter is as rich as it sounds and impossible to resist going back to again and again. The tasty black garlic-salsa verde butter with its bright herbaceousness is almost like a palate cleanser — if butter can be such a thing — when you need a little relief from the bone marrow.
The Caesar salad ($14) features purple romaine arranged in a compact, rounded mound with tiny anchovy croutons with everything blanketed in a fluffy blizzard of grated Pecorino.
The tuna carpaccio ($24) sports the world’s teeniest potato chips dotting thinly sliced ahi draping the plate. The silky fish is accented by a racy ginger vinaigrette and a jalapeno cucumber salsa that had me marveling at the precise confetti-like cut of the cukes. This is a beautiful dish that I longed never to end.
For entrees, the miso marinated Pacific cod ($42) is full of smoky, umami flavors, having been grilled over rosemary and charcoal, then finished with dashi and a sprinkle of toasted buckwheat. Underneath is a shallow layer of Forbidden rice congee, and off to the side, a sugar snap pea slaw seasoned with nuoc cham.
Wanting something lighter after a big lunch, I opted for the “Chef’s Alchemy,” which changes daily. It’s the restaurant’s vegetarian entree built upon what’s at the farmers market.
That evening, it was a vibrant quinoa tabbouleh-like salad hiding chickpeas, tiny cubes of feta and cucumber. It was crowned with cherry tomatoes, pickled cucumber slices, and pickled daikon. A spoonful of hummus and a drizzle of golden-green olive oil completed this vibrant dish that I would love to enjoy for lunch every week.
We didn’t have time for dessert that evening, so trying the unexpected halo halo with ube boba, pandan jelly, and matcha ice cream will have to wait for another time.
Plus More Oregon Travels: Abbey Road Farm