We were ready to leave Seaside quite early on Wednesday morning – but nothing in the Willamette Valley opened until mid-day. As a result, we rethought our plan to head directly inland and decided to do a little more coastal adventuring and to expand our reach to Tillamook.
That meant a little more driving down scenic highway 101, and little more driving on country and forest roads. As we were averaging a good 3 hours of driving per day on this trip or more – it was totally in the wheelhouse of our vacation speed.
We stopped at one scenic overlook which happened to have a little history about highway 101 on it – it spoke of building alongside nature and something else very inspirational as it advised anyone driving to take their time, slow down, and not pass other drivers. Sound advice, I wish a lot of people would follow.
Jeremy managed to take a nice amount of road photos to document the beauty of the drive, and we eventually made it to the Tillamook Creamery. Which was officially a thing. We knew it was a thing, i.e. a self-guided tour at a cheese factory, because the internet and friends said so – but we didn't know it was a thing like this until the giant brown cow was staring into our faces.
As the wave of elderly and definitely retirement age people rolled by us, we began to wonder about our vacation choices. We were by far the youngest people here at ten in the morning on a Wednesday in September.
There was great labeling and so obvious that Tillamook has a marketing department, or hired a really good firm to design the infographics that went into this place.
We learned how to milk a cow with industrial milking equipment and
how to feed a fake baby calf in a little plastic igloo. It was all very family friendly. As was the explanation of the cheese making process with big giant windows over the cheese plant floor.
Every step of the way was documented and shockingly, you exit through the gigantic gift shop and cafeteria.
The guys got in line for some ice cream and I just took pictures of the wonders in the glass cases that I cannot eat. Nothing was really super moving, as I don't find Tillamook products to be particularly awesome (don't tell anyone) as they taste massed produced. Now that I've seen the mass production with my own eyes I am not re-educated into thinking otherwise.
We gathered ourselves together after our thrilling ride through agricultural tourism, manufactured food, marketing and capitalism at its best and got back on the road to Willamette Valley aka Oregon wine country.
We arrived at Apollini Vineyards just on the other side of the Tillamook State Forest about an hour later after driving through some serious rain and curvy roads. Jeremy and Dan enjoy light red wines so Pinot Noir country is the right place to take them for a wine tasting adventure.
We learned about biodynamic farming at Montinore Estate and had a picnic on their covered porch (because it was still pouring rain) enjoying the view over the vineyards, 10 year old aged cheddar I purchased in Wisconsin along with local smoked salmon (purchased at Tillmook gift shop) and blackberries from the Ballard Farmer's Market.
We enjoyed sun showers from inside the very air conditioned Argyle Winery in Dundee as we waited for check-in at The Vintages – a lovely resort that offers stays in vintage Airstream Campers.
The Vintages gets to be called a resort because they had chairs, fireplace, club house, shower house, heated-esq pool and bicycles! That we could never use because it was raining most of the time that we were there. If you are for some reason going through the Northern Willamette Valley wine tasting or otherwise (there is really good food in the area as well) it is well worth the experience to stay there and comparable to hotels and Airbnb as far as pricing. It has most of the amenities – but a little bit like a combination of camping, glamping and a hotel stay.
After we checked in and got settled and I attempted to catch up on my blogging now that my platform was back from the brink – it was time for our reservation at Thistle for the Chef's Whim menu. I had visited Thistle on a past trip with a friend but only got to order a salad – and the farm to table restaurant looked like something that would be very enjoyable.
It was a really fun place to photograph. I think this Instagrammed photo above won the internet for a couple people that day.
Here is the tiny little kitchen that the big flavor arrived from. We were sitting just feet away as each course started to arrive.
First fresh Oregon sourced oysters.
Then arugula, goat cheese and beet salad. The arugula was so fresh and had such lovely pepper and crispness to its leaves.
Then rabbit liver pate and salmon collar and an egg mushroom casserole thingy.
Nothing was a new flavor or completely unique – but each thing was very well executed. Smooth rich tasty rabbit liver, fatty flakey seasoned salmon, and cheesy eggy mushroomy goodness.
The appetizers were followed by a rich main dish of pork belly and really hot green peppers – they may have been ancho but no one wrote it down or can remember now that I'm writing this. All we know is the server said "They are coming in hot!" and she was not lying.
A trio of dessert followed – including panna cotta above, a chocolate cake and a cheese plate.
This was so good with the fresh berries and figs and house made ice cream on top.
The cheese was also very tasty, albeit a little hard to eat right next door to the sweet of the chocolate and panna cotta without losing some of its own nuance of flavor. All-in-all though the Chef's whimsy treated us well – no complaints and the best meal we had so far on this trip (sorry Seattle, but Oregon wine country beat you).
It was a beautiful evening and we closed it by returning to the Vintages Resort and sitting by the fire and making friends with our fellow travelers.