Friday, November 16, 2012

Eugene Eats: rye on third

The bar at rye on third, Eugene, OR
Despite officially taking Friday after Día de Los Muertos off of work, I fired up the company laptop anyway to catch up on my work unabated by requests and meetings, and continued working until my phone chimed breaking me out of my work-trance.

"Downstairs."

It was Charlie Ruff, general manager of the Oregon Country Fair and culinary director of the new Oregon Truffle Festival.

We chatted for a moment with the receptionist ("oh yeah, I haven't seen Charlie in 9 years...", "wow, it's a reunion!") before heading off to lunch.

"Before we go to the restaurant I thought I'd take you up into the hills," said Charlie, making his Eugene sales pitch.

I was too stunned at the orange and brown and red laid out below me to bother taking my phone out to capture it. Nicely played, Chuckles.

"rye just opened up," pitched Charlie, as we sat bar side. "I've known these guys for years, it's great to see this restaurant come together."

I'm introduced briefly to the Chef, Jeff Passerotti. He and Charlie talk business for a few minutes, Charlie fiddling with a smart phone - taking notes, making appointments.

Open-faced grilled chicken.
I order a gin concoction called an "Aviation 1916", to eat, local line-caught salmon over a sweet-corn polenta, and side salad.

Charlie tucked into an open-faced grilled chicken sandwich with a nice melting of cheese on top, also with salad and coffee with a touch of cream.

Running the country fair must be no cake walk - Charlie was frequently interrupted throughout lunch.

A tall and these days thin ("I'm a complete gym rat now") presence, Charlie is full of energy and is enthusiastic as an ambassador for his adopted city (Charlie and I met in Cleveland... in the 1990s, naturally).

I took in the room and the menu items, thinking, "yeah, I would definitely return." The tone of the menu is European rustic with a thick Pacific Northwest accent: mussels in broth, goat cheese salad served with beets, chevre fries with onion marmalade, duck confit poutine, lamb daube, coq au vin and the ever present grilled, marinated portabella.

rye is the brainchild of owner troika Jeff Passerotti, Wendy Watson and Kiyallah Heatherstone. The three crossed paths at the gone-but-not forgotten local favorite, a restaurant named "Bel Ami". They have a varied curricula vitae and bona fides within Eugene fine dining.

After "Bel Ami" was no more, they set their mind to opening rye, a "European village/tavern feel while trending towards upscale dining," says partner Wendy Watson.

Chef du Cuisine Joseph Mihm, a Cordon Bleu graduate, does much of the heavy lifting.

rye was recently named the Eugene Weekly's "best new restaurant". The free weekly also names "Oregon Country Fair" the best festival. No coincident, Ruff and rye Chef Jeff Passerotti seem to know what they are doing.

If you find yourself in Eugene, definitely give rye a shot. 

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rye on third
444 East 3rd Avenue
Eugene, OR
(541) 653-8509