It's the season to explore some of the Rogue Valley's favorite eateries, and one eatery perennially near the top of that list is Omar's Restaurant and Bar. Year after year, I've heard that Ashland's oldest restaurant continues to delight diners, and I set out to discover why.
As an SOU graduate, I'd enjoyed many a beer in its lounge during my college years, but I'd eaten few meals there. As it turns out, one of my co-workers had never been there, so we made the trip to Ashland.
With its curved, red, vinyl-upholstered booths, deep wood paneling and black-and-white photos of 1940s Ashland, the surroundings take diners back to the era of the restaurant's opening in 1946.
Dining out with
the Mail Tribune
Omar's Restaurant and Bar
1380 Siskiyou Blvd.
Lunch served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
Dinner served daily at 5 p.m.
My co-worker joked that the 1940s ambience felt like something from a David Lynch movie, but added that the restaurant reminded him of the dinner houses that were common when he was a kid.
However, it was the patrons' Ashland warmth that struck me most. When our server told us lunch specials, a neighboring diner chimed in suggesting we choose the chef's special of the day. The interjection was friendly and brief, but I couldn't imagine it happening anywhere else.
We opted for the specials, which change daily, our server explained.
I took that fellow diner's advice and ordered the special Red Wine Braised Beef Tips ($9.95 plus tax).
My co-worker chose the fresh catch of the day, a seared red snapper ($10.45). Each entree came with a choice of garden salad or one of two soups: truffle corn chowder or seafood chowder. I had the salad with poppyseed vinaigrette.
The salad was a refreshing mix of radish slices, cherry tomatoes and garbanzo beans on a bed of leafy greens and topped with fresh croutons. The combination was one I hadn't recently seen at a restaurant, and the flavors of the salad melded nicely with the vinaigrette. In addition to offering good mouth feel, the salad's smaller-cut croutons seemed to buck a trend of ever-larger salad toppings.
Beef tips, freshly cut onions and mushrooms were expertly prepared in a savory red wine sauce, and served against roasted, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside fingerling potatoes and a vegetable medley. The meal was prepared and arranged in a way not normally seen at the $10 price point.
The same could be said for the snapper, which my co-worker described as "zesty." I sampled a bite and found the fish notably fresh, with notes of citrus and pepper. The fish filet was handsomely served on a bed of rice pilaf and a vegetable medley side.
Fitting of a restaurant that has had decades to refine itself, my criticisms of the restaurant are slight. While my co-worker and I left feeling satisfied, portions on the lunch menu are just shy of generous. Our server dutifully never let my iced tea glass go empty, but my modern eyes found it a little disconcerting to have a beverage other than water served in a 12-ounce glass.
Overall, those are very slight concessions for a chef-prepared lunch at a burger price. Omar's continues to amaze.