The Willamette Valley Grill is the focal point at the Red Lion Inn. Willamette Valley Grill Sets New Standard In case you hadn’t noticed, Salem has a new steak house that sizzles! If I said, “Iguana green”, you night guess that the restaurant of my attention this month is located at 3301 Market Street. By the way, that “in your face” color is being changed as we speak. I almost hate to see that conversation piece go. The interior, however, is just bursting with color that works. It’s exciting, fun, and inviting. Salem has been sorely lacking a popular hang-out after work for grown ups. Our party of four showed up for drinks and dinner last week. The atmosphere could not have been more uptown. It was fun to have a couple from Portland, a city that is quickly becoming the “foody” destination of the NW, be impressed with what is just down the street in Salem. We started out in the lounge. Ellen and Dawneka took very good care of us. They’re the gals in charge of the bar. We started out with the usual martini’s and bourbon and sodas, but with a little encouragement from the bar staff, we were introduced to a lovely, must try, concoction known as the Madori Marguerite! Our surroundings enhanced our conversations and when our table was ready, it was hard to leave, but we were glad we did. After being seated in the open, dusk-lit dining room, we decided to indulge in a few starters to whet our appetites. My dining mates chose the “tabled assembled” Caesar Salad. I mooched a few bites from them and found the salad crisp and fresh with the required anchovies, freshly grated parmesan, Worcestershire, garlic, and cracked pepper. Did you know that more than a few restaurants in Salem change a traditional Caesar by eliminating the anchovies, egg and raw garlic? The Willamette Valley Grill prepares the real deal! I, on the other hand, tried the Duck Confit and Artichoke for the first course. The slow braised duck was moist and tasty and the artichoke served as the perfect contrast. The presentation was impressive. I didn’t want to share it but I did, and everyone agreed. There was a featured wine bottled on the table. What a nice touch. We opened the Ponziv Vineyards 2004 Pinot. It complimented our course accurately. By the way, out server, Jonathan was very informative but not intrusive. He answered all of our questions and helped us decide what to choose based on our personalities. A bottle of Broadway Pinot 2005 was ordered to compliment all of the steak orders. I, on the other hand, had to veer from the beaten path and order the, melt in your mouth, Arctic Char. It was presented on a bed of greens, caramelized onions, and pepper bacon, garnished with fresh pear tomatoes. The flavors and textures (tart, bitey, and buttery) melted in my mouth. I would recommend this to anyone. Now, on to the steaks. You may not know that it takes a very special gas broiler to properly cook a steak. The Montague Legend heavy duty steakhouse broiler sits in the Willamette Valley Grill’s kitchen at considerable expense. This broiler sears the best cuts of beef at 1800 degrees to insure that the juices and flavors are locked in. Not only were the steaks cooked to everyone’s expectations (interlude on choices: a Filet Mignon, a New York, a Top Sirloin, a Rib Eye, a Flat Iron, and even a Buffalo Top), but my dinner companions had the option of choosing the style, which include the Pacific North West black peppercorn demi with wild mushroom, the French-a delectable combination of blue cheese croquettes with a red wine reduction, the July 2007 Front Page Red Eye-my favorite-which is a coffee rubbed steak with a spicy a jus. This combination is worth trying. The Cajun, which we did not try, includes an interesting crawfish garnish, and of course, the naked steak…Self explanatory! Dinners include a dinner salad and a choice of a very unique side dish. We had the cheese encrusted yukon potatoes, the spicy long string beans touched with a dab of chili oil, the new potato hash studded with honey slab bacon, and the broiled, to perfection, garden fresh tomatoes. Is your mouth watering yet??? But wait, there’s more! We were all pretty well satiated; however, we just had to try the signature dessert. I spent some time in New Orleans at a cooking school preparing some of the regions’ finest creations. Bananas Foster is one dessert that I am very familiar with. Willamette Valley Grill can prepare this dessert better than the New Orleans chef that I learned from. What a treat! The obviously experienced waiter came table side to prepare the Banana’s Foster. A concoction of sautéed bananas in creamy fresh butter, caramelized sugar, flaming rum, and crunchy toasted pecans, ladled over rich, smooth French vanilla ice cream. This was sooooooo good that I wanted to take a bath in the sauté pan! We just couldn’t leave well enough alone and headed to the lounge to finish our wine. Surprise! The Flextones were playing and they were fabulous. Want to lose a few pounds after indulging yourself? This is the way to do it! There is always live music on the weekends. Some of the up-coming attractions include: The Brian Flannery Band, J. T. and the Tourists, and Router Head. Compared to at least two of the best steak houses in Portland, the Willamette Valley Grill shines. This is not a chain. This venue has created its own menu with the expertise of Chef Mathew Slack and the help of the very talented Sous Chef, David Wardell. The value is better, the quality is higher, and you won’t have to waste a quarter of a tank of gas. If you want to entertain clients or just meet the gang after work, make the Willamette Valley a “gotta do it just to say I did” destination! You won’t be disappointed!