Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cruising to Corvallis

It's one of those silly things. You have good friends, people you've known for years through kids, work, church, whatever. They only live an hour-and-a-half drive away, but somehow that seems like a really long way to go. (I can hear you folks outside the metro area saying, "What? We drive an hour-and-a-half to the dentist!") And you just never make the time to get in the car and get your complacent butts out of the city.

On the left, Marys River* as it flows into the Willamette just south of downtown Corvallis and (right) a new condo/retail development along the Riverfront Park walkway.

But sometimes you actually get yourselves in the car and go see those friends. So, of course, that's just what we did on a recent weekend at the end of summer, and we had a great time visiting and getting a personal guided tour of their hometown of Corvallis. First up was a short walk along the new award-winning Corvallis Riverfront Park to the local farmers market. Along the way are great art installations, including this vintage movie marquee from the Midway Theatre, a former local landmark. And instead of first-run features, it now showcases poetry, this one by Freda Fredricksen:

buds appear
sky still grey

war's sorrow never clears quickly
the world wants peace, blue skies, and spring.

The market is overrun with the last surge of the summer's harvest, tables laden with red, yellow, green and purple peppers, and baskets bulging with squash, mushrooms, cabbage and greens. There's an air of conviviality, with neighbors greeting each other and admiring the day's purchases, and waving at vendors who also taught their kids social studies in high school.

For you history trivialists, the city was originally called Marysville after the Marys* River that flows south of town, and was briefly the capital of the Oregon Territory in 1855. It was renamed Corvallis after the American-French "Coeur de Vallis" or "Heart of the Valley."

The building on the left housed the original capitol of the Oregon Territory, and the curious interior courtyard on the right is the home of the Old World Deli and Oregon Trail Brewing.

But of more concern to us after all the sightseeing and walking was where we'd have lunch, so our friends walked us through downtown and into The Old World Deli, also home to the Oregon Trail Brewing Company. This funky-but-fun place usually has anywhere from three to five beers on tap at any one time and a full complement of large and filling deli sandwiches, which hit the spot perfectly, and we were regaled with tales of Mr. A's pranks as a young man working in a cannery. You really don't want to know, but I can tell you it involved something other than what was supposed to have been pears in heavy syrup.

After strolling back to our friends' place, we took their 8-month-old, 75-lb. chocolate lab puppy to large and beautiful Avery Park on the Marys River for a late afternoon swim (the dog, not us). A quick change back at their house and we were ready to head out for dinner at Magenta, advertised as "an organic asian fusion restaurant."

Now, I'm normally not a big fan of most fusion cooking. I like my cuisines pretty clearly delineated, though most ethnic food served in this neck of the woods makes concessions to what is available locally, much like early Italian immigrants made do with what they found here. But this place features fresh, local ingredients like beef, lamb and elk with subtle nods toward Asia. We started with cocktails from a house menu of tropically-themed but not froo-froo drinks that were well-mixed and refreshing, along with an appetizer of Vietnamese coconut pancake balls with King crab and kaffir lime crême, an unusual but stunning take on the fried foods found at street stalls in that country.

The banana leaf-wrapped wild salmon in fresh dill coconut curry that I ordered was a good-sized piece of fillet, moist and tender. The choice of a disk of polenta on the side was odd and the sautéed vegetables that accompanied it were fairly innocuous. But as a whole the experience was a good one, with attentive, friendly service and busy-but-not-too-loud sound level.

So to sum up? As I said before, get your backsides in the car and get out of town. You might just enjoy the experience!

* For you copyeditors (or wannabe nitpickers out there) there is no apostrophe. Check it out on the wiki.


Anonymous said...

KAB and her beloved will return; many places remain unexplored in and around Corvallis!

[HINT: A bistro by the name of Sybaris!]

Kathleen Bauer said...

We'll definitely be back. Especially with our own private tour guides to give us the inside scoop!