The Painted Lady of Willamette

by Mattie John Bamman | Photo © Mattie John Bamman

Since 2005, husband and wife team Allen Routt and Jessica Bagley— both émigrés from Napa—have provided a romantic and sophisticated dining experience in a downtown Newberg restored Victorian home. They moved to the town of tree-lined streets and tasting rooms in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country to open The Painted Lady.

With Routt in the kitchen, Bagley choreographs each night’s dinner service, and if it’s old-world opulence you’re looking for, you’ll find a level of refinement rare anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Expect to have your coat taken at the door and your chair pulled out for you at the table. Expect all attempts to stump your waiter with wine geekery to fail. And expect to begin with a perfectly balanced cocktail while reading over the selection of caviars, appetizers, and mains—all with Spartan descriptions that barely hint at the ingenuity chef Routt has up his sleeve.

As with most sophisticated ladies, The Painted Lady’s heart—Chef Routt’s cooking—is not easily captured. Routt seems to effortlessly design meals with surprises around every corner.

Dinner can begin with a silky Tom Gai coconut-infused broth poured tableside over a savory miso custard with Dungeness crab, enoki mushrooms, salmon roe and edamame and then, just a moment later, take you to Europe with a smoked quail scented with quatre espices and stuffed so that it becomes a sort of rich, smoky meatball.

Routt’s dishes often incorporate strictly executed, time-tested cooking techniques. For some, working within classical techniques can be stifling, but for Chef Routt, it opens infinite possibilities. No two meals at The Painted Lady are ever the same. For this reason, it’s usually best to order the chef’s menu, replete with pairings from the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning wine list, and see what comes.

The Painted Lady’s intimate atmosphere really takes hold halfway through the first drink. Even with its plush chairs and starched white tablecloths, the dining room in no way conceals its former role as a living room. Routt and Bagley renovated the old Victorian themselves, and chandeliers hang, candles blink and flowers and budding boughs adorn the mantle. A flight of stairs with a carpet runner ascends to the second-floor dining room; after your meal, wishful thinking might lead you to believe there’s a warm bed waiting for you up there.

Fortunately, Routt and Bagley have thought of this, too. The Painted Lady Guest Cottage opened next door in 2012. Outfitted for a truly romantic escape, the cottage feels like your very own home in wine country, with fully stocked gourmet kitchen and a garden, from which you can source the same herbs, flowers and vegetables as the restaurant. More than ten tasting rooms are a short stroll away, as are Newberg’s shops, galleries and coffee houses.

To view The Painted Lady’s impressive list of critics’ accolades, or to experience their brand of culinary perfection for yourself, visit thepaintedladyrestaurant.com. To book the cottage, go to thepaintedladycottage. com. Check the website for culinary weekend packages. To learn more about visiting Newberg, Oregon, go to chehalemvalley.org.