An Oregon truffle feast

A festival of intersecting food trails

What do wild Oregon grown and harvested truffles have in common with James Beard and Albany, Oregon? Quite a bit as it turns out—and the recent Oregon Truffle Feast at Sybaris Bistro illustrates the connection perfectly.

Image of a pair of man's hands with dirt on them holding out a handful of Oregon wild trufflesMaster cook James Beard was a writer, teacher, and champion of American cuisine. Born in Portland, Oregon, Beard was a big fan of Oregon’s truffles that at times, are dismissed by European chefs as “false truffles.” 

Beard was still a young cook when he established his home and career in New York City. He authored cookbooks, became a television cooking show personality, and opened a cooking school in Manhattan (as well as Seaside, Oregon). In the 1950s he was dubbed “… the face and belly of American gastronomy,” as noted by David Kamp in the book The United States of Arugula.

Beard’s legacy for cooking with fresh local and seasonal ingredients was handed down to many a talented chef after he passed away in 1985. His personal home in New York City became part of a working foundation that showcases talented chefs and regional American cooking. 

To cook at James Beard House is an honor for chefs—and Sybaris Bistro’s owner, Matt Bennett, is no exception.

An Oregon Truffle Feast

Chef Bennett was invited for his third appearance at Beard House this January, where he served his unique interpretation of Pacific Northwest Cuisine—building a seven course menu featuring wild Oregon truffles.

In preparation for the New York dinner, Bennett and his team prepared and hosted two Albany, Oregon-based suppers to coincide with Oregon’s Truffle Festival. Both dinners were sold out almost as soon as they were announced.

Menus for the Albany and James Beard House dinners were similar with minor variations. They both featured a series of gastronomical delights such as hazelnut foie gras with black truffle, black truffle miso marinated black cod, double white truffle pheasant breast with truffle buttered cabbage, and the pièce de résistance: a black truffle pot de creme with hazelnut oil gelato and truffle and hazelnut streusel. 

All ingredients, including wine pairings, were sourced by Bennett, his wife Janel and staff. They were transported by the Sybaris team in a series of coolers shipped in place of personal luggage. Carefully watched over and guarded, the truffles, black cod, pheasant, Dungeness crab, and Oregon grown vegetables safely arrived in New York.

A local culinary genius

AVA was lucky enough to have a seat at Sybaris’ truffle feast. Chef Bennett regaled diners with tales about Oregon truffles, the reasons behind the menu he created, and a bit about James Beard’s gastronomical history and the famous house where his truffle feast will be served.

We delighted not only in Sybaris’ ambience, with its enormous fireplace and cozy crackling fire, exposed brick walls, plank tables, starched napkins and stellar tableside service, but in chef’s creativity and delicious sense of humor.

A sometimes overlooked ingredient (pig’s foot!) was used to construct a sausage-like croquette with wild mushrooms and white truffle verjus. Bennett’s unusual selection was a tongue and cheek homage to the French method that utilizes pigs to harvest truffles. Bennett is known for playing with ingredients and creating dishes that are metaphors for their inspiration. 

Sybaris Bistro’s dinner menus change monthly, featuring locally sourced fresh ingredients in season. It’s no wonder Bennett captured the attention of the James Beard Foundation—he warm-heartedly embraces the core Beard value to cook with what is available within reach. 

If you want to experience Sybaris in a Beard-like manner, stay tuned to their Facebook and website. Bennett and his culinary team create special themed dinners to celebrate holidays with limited dining events such as “A Dickens Dinner” or Valentines Day. These menus typically feature multiple courses with additional wine pairings. They’re a great way to jump into Bennett’s “style de cuisine” and either celebrate the end to an extended weekend or start one out.

Whatever draws you to Albany, a visit to Sybaris Bistro should definitely be part of your travel itinerary.

*Blog content copyright 2019 by AVA, written by Maddie MacGregor

What to know if you go

Although not required for regular dinner service, reservations are advised. Sybaris is enormously popular with the locals as much as with culinary travelers. Specially themed dinner events almost always sell out ahead of time, so reserve early for holidays or farm-to-table or Thanksgiving benefits. 

Sybaris is located at 442 First Ave W, in Albany, Oregon. The bistro is closed Sundays and Mondays, and open from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Telephone 541-928-8157 for reservations. Check out the monthly menus (gluten-free included) on their website at https://sybarisbistro.com

History, Holidays, and Horses

Image of large draft horses hitched to wagon and wearing Christmas harnesses in front of the Monteith House Museum in Albany, Oregon. A sunset shines pink behind the silhouette of trees.

Are you a romantic soul yearning for a Victorian Christmas? If so, you really need to know about the Albany Annual Christmas Parlour Tour of Historic Homes and Buildings. Coming up on Sunday, December 9, 2018, from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., the 39th annual tour will feature beautifully decorated historic houses, museums, churches, historic library, and a downtown loft. This is one of only two tours offered per year that include interiors of historic homes.

(*Win tickets to this event; see below in the “Win free tickets” section!)

Father Christmas will be out with an enormous bag of treats and the Monteith House and Museum will be lit by oil lamp and fire-light, warming your spirit.

Chafin Farms’ beautiful draft horses will merrily transport you around the historic districts with sleigh bells jingling, and the antique trolley will transport you back to a different era. Tour participants will be encouraged to ring the church bell at Whitespires Church and the fireplace will be crackling at the Carnegie Library.

While the tour is considered “self-guided,” you can ride either the trolley or the horse and wagon around to each stop (this is included in the ticket price) or drive your own car, trek by bike or two legs, or any other mode of alternative transportation. A map will be provided the day of the tour.

This jolly holiday event includes refreshments and loads of happiness, all for the ticket price of $15. Tickets can be purchased ahead of the tour online or the day of the tour, at Albany Visitors Association. 

Win free tickets

We will be giving away three pairs of tickets ($30 value) to the tour! Simply subscribe to our monthly events e-newsletter between November 20th and December 1st to be entered in the drawing. Current subscribers are included. We will contact winners on December 4th.

A Dickens Christmas Dinner Benefit at Sybaris

An antique engraving with hand-colored pencil depicting a scene from the Charles Dickens novel "A Christmas Carol"After the Parlour Tour, you have an opportunity to attend an absolutely divine benefit supper. Sybaris Bistro will host a “historic” dinner at their restaurant on December 9th at 5:00 p.m. This dinner is the fourth “Let Kids be Kids,” event, and will raise funds for local underprivileged children to ride the Albany Historic Carousel.  

The menu includes chilled pheasant pie with wassail jelly, goose “ham,” pease porridge, mock turtle soup, smoked trout kedgeree, roasted pork loin with sugar plum gravy, roasted potatoes, plum pudding with hard sauce, real English Stilton, fruits and nuts, and oat biscuits.

The cost is $50 per person, $75 with wine pairing; gratuity not included.  Please, don’t be a Scrooge, raise your glasses for kids who need passes! Telephone Sybaris for the all important reservation: 541-928-8157.

2018 Albany Farm to Table Benefit

AVA sends out gratitude to Sybaris Restaurant and Springhill Cellars Winery for their gorgeous Farm to Table dinner along Albany’s historic 9th Street Canal. This beautiful evening was a benefit for the Albany Regional Museum, who provides educational and historical presentations, collections, and exhibits for free to the public. We hope you enjoy the slideshow and stay tuned to AVA for the 2019 farm-to-table dinners! (*Images provided by Knoher Photos and Katie Knower.)

 

Albany Farm to Table Dinners – 2018 Series

The first of Albany’s 2018 Farm to Table Dinners takes place on Sunday, August 19th. Dine al fresco along a shaded historic waterway—the Albany 8th Street Canal.

Feast on delectable creations by Chef Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro and sip locally-grown and crafted Springhill Cellars Winery selections. The menu is based on Cajun Creole cuisine inspired by Chef Bennett’s recent trip to New Orleans.

Seating at the dinner is limited and we encourage you to purchase your tickets early for what will no doubt, be a sold-out event. Dinner proceeds will benefit the Albany Regional Museum and enable them to continue to offer free admission to all visitors.

Tickets

Purchase your tickets online with the Albany Regional Museum.

 

 

Albany wins travel destination award

Congratulations are in order to our fair city! Albany was included in Northwest Travel & Life magazine’s “52 Getaways” issue in January 2018, and has been named one of the publication’s 2018 Top Travel Picks.

Albany Visitors Association contributed to content developed for the feature article, and Albany businesses are highlighted, including The Pix Theater, Sybaris Bistro, and the Albany Historic Carousel & Museum.

Read the article “Dreamers and Doers” in NW Travel & Life’s ’52 Getaways for 2018.’

 

 

September Featured AVA Photographer

A huge shoutout to Mike Krutsinger of MKrutsinger Photography. Mike is our featured AVA photographer for September, and is volunteering with AVA to help give back to his community. His feature gallery reflects Albany Visitors Association’s summer Linn-Benton Farm-to-Table dinner that was held at Weddle Covered Bridge. It will give you a hint of what’s in store for next season!

*If you would like to contact Mike Krutsinger in regards to his commercial photography services, please email us.

Gallery

Click on any of the images to see better, You can exit the gallery at any time by pressing the escape key.

When ordinary coffee won’t do

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Organic coffee beans at Universal

I don’t know about you, but coffee is the highlight of my mornings and afternoons. Granted, I may be more fortunate than most caffeine lovers—I’m married to a man who orders green beans from small farms around the world and roasts them over flames in a popcorn popper.

Although living with a coffee alchemist is magical, when I’m out with family and friends I often usher them over to the closest Starbucks for a cappuccino. And even though we have many charming spots in Albany that specialize in espresso drinks, what I’m looking for is a dedicated coffee experience.

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A shady spot to sip coffee

Much like Oregon vintners use their knowledge to craft a perfect wine, coffee tasting (and making) is a fine art. In my quest to share my passion for coffee with Albany’s visitors, I discovered Universal Coffee on Santiam Rd.

Although Universal is tucked away from our city’s main thoroughfares, it is a jewel in the coffee crown. As I pulled up in front of the shop, it was obvious that adventurous spirits are welcome here.  A quirky bicycle and cart decorated with coffee sacks serves as a landmark, while enormous umbrellas shade those who appreciate sipping al fresco.

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A colorful explosion of art

The interior of the shop is an explosion of vibrant Latin art, complete with a corner devoted to musical instruments and plenty of space for groups or individuals to settle in for a leisurely coffee break.

I visited with barista Juan Ruiz, who has worked alongside Universal’s owner, Alexander Contreras, for the last two years.

“We are all about educating people on what coffee tastes like,” says Ruiz, as he lets me smell the beans he will craft my Americano with. “Most people think there has to be sugar or lots of dairy in their coffee, but then they cannot taste the differences in the varieties.”

Professional Barista Juan Ruiz

Professional Barista Juan Ruiz

As Ruiz busied himself grinding the beans, I asked him about their source. He explains that most are “single origin,” a term often associated with one specific family farm or geographical region. And each day at the shop, a new bean is featured. This means if you are serious coffee aficionado your taste buds will never be bored. In addition, all beans used at Universal are organic.

Today’s variety is sourced from Ecuador, from the family farm ‘Nossa Familia.’ The resulting brew? Citrusy notes mellowed with hints of chocolate that kept it from being too sour. It was smooth and mellow, not burnt or over-roasted.

Traditional Aztec drinks

Traditional Aztec drinks

Ruiz shows me a full rack of dairy alternatives, including soy, coconut, and almond milks. “We have a full range of non-dairy ingredients that we can use to make lattes and other drinks with,” he tells me.

In addition to unbelievably delicious coffee—Universal specializes in a Latin American historic concoction known as Champurrado—once the sacred drink of the Aztecs, made with corn and cacoa beans. Universal infuses their modern version of this ancient beverage using cinnamon, white or dark chocolate, corn flour, brown sugar, coffee, milk and other options. It is served in a special vessel.

Other specialties of the house include organic coffee ice-cream drinks, apple pie (made by a local baker), and tasty Latin American treats. Ruiz mentions that the shop is now sourcing a local baker to provide gluten-free goodies so that everyone can enjoy a delicacy along with their organic coffee.

The shop's landmark

The shop’s landmark

If you haven’t yet tried Universal Coffee, enliven your local coffee experience by visiting Alex and Juan soon. It’s an opportunity to learn more about how coffee is produced, how single origin defines flavor, and the art of tasting the brew’s true identity. One sip will ensure that even the most discerning coffee critic in your group sits up with delight.

Information for when you go
Universal Coffee is located within the Carriage House Plaza at 1157 SE Santiam Rd, Albany, OR, 97321. Hours: Mon, Tues, Fri, Sat: 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Wed and Thurs: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Closed on Sundays. Telephone 541-981-2126. Website: http://universalcoffee.co

The 9th Annual Mid Valley Brewfest

brewfest_vert_fullCome check out the 9th Annual Mid Valley Brewfest in downtown Albany. This event keeps getting bigger every year. Over 50+ beers on tap plus wine, cider, and spirits. Games on multiple screens, food carts, and entertainment.

Dates
Friday, October 20, 2017 – 5 to 9pm
Saturday, October 21, 2017 – TBD

Location
Downtown Albany on NW Water Ave between Broadalbin and Ferry Streets under the big tents. Entrance into the event is on the corner of Water and Broadablin.

Admission
$20 – 2 day pass
$12 – 1 day pass
All proceeds go to a local non-profit.

For more information, connect with the Albany Brewfest Facebook page.

Places to take your Valentine

Romantic-Valentines-Dinner-014_thumb1It’s almost that time of year when Cupid visits our fair city. If you procrastinated on what to get your sweetie-pie, perhaps a romantic meal will do the trick. For those desperate to wow someone this Valentines Day, here’s a short list of places to enjoy a fab dinner for two.

BBQ: Does your better half enjoy tickling a rib with you? Do they prefer a quiet night at home with some down-home BBQ? You’ll find it easy to pick up meals to go from BoMack’s BBQ Express in Downtown Albany, complete with traditional sides such as mac ‘n’ cheese, green beans, corn bread, tater salad, and extra sauce. BoMack’s is located at 315 Lyons St. Telephone (541) 791-7058 to ask about their specials.

Wine and Dine: If your significant other loves kitties on the Internet (who doesn’t?) then Cellar Cat in Downtown Albany just might be the cat’s meow. Featuring a bistro atmosphere with “cattitude”—Cellar Cat boasts a unique wine list, seasonal entrees, appetizers, and house-made desserts. They might even light a candle for your big date. Located at 211 1st Avenue, telephone 541-704-0304.

Hungarian: Just tell your handsome hunk that “Momma” is holding a table for you! Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant is located in a historic building in Downtown Albany at 208 2nd Avenue, and the menu is guaranteed to knock your guy’s socks off. Don’t wait until the last minute though, telephone 541-967-9488 for reservations or to inquire about V-Day specials.

Flaming dates dessert and more wine: Granted, you’ll most likely want a little something more solid than dessert, and Sweet Red Bistro and you and your date will appreciate their delectable morsels prepared with love. Located at 208 1st Avenue in Downtown Albany, Sweet Red is cosy and romantically lit. Telephone 541-704-0510 to check on V-Day specialities.

Cocktails and small plates: If you really want to impress that special someone, the Vault 244 Bistro & Lounge in Downtown Albany will tell them you care. From its lush and cozy lounge with a fireplace and classy cocktail bar, your date will be mesmerized. A creative menu featuring locally sourced ingredients, tapas or full dinners, is sure to please event the most discerning palette. It could be the perfect spot to slip a ring box in front of her. Telephone 541-791-9511 for more info. The Vault is located in Historic Downtown Albany at 244 1st Avenue West.

What to do in Oregon in 2017

17_OECGet ready for an Oregon year to be remembered! Many travelers will visit Oregon for the very first time—particularly in late August when a Total Solar Eclipse will occur on the 21st. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is prime TSE viewing territory, and many locales along the eclipse route will feature special viewing activities, food, celebration, and drink, including Albany.

The new 2017 Oregon Events Calendar, published by Pamplin Media Group, can help you plan your vacation—whether you hail from New York or Newberg. The Albany Visitors Association will have a supply of the publication at their office soon, but until we do, check out the digital edition.

In addition to the eclipse, Oregon is home to numerous annual music festivals, cycling and paddling relays, brew smackdowns, winery and culinary tours, and other venues to taste and experience our state in an entirely new way throughout the year. So come on, join us this year in Albany, Oregon.

*For print copies, please contact AVA at 541-9288-0911. Copies can be mailed, or you can stop by the office at 3rd and Lyon Streets in Downtown Albany, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.