by the Ardent Gourmet
Tillamook. Few places can boast not just a creamery but a crematorium. Think how brilliant this business model is, with the first company slowly but surely directing customers to the second. How is it possible then that a neighborhood enlightened by such genius has lacked so many great restaurants for so long. Surely his genius should have generated some. While Portland saw a rise years ago from restaurants serving high school cafeteria food to jaw-dropping fare, the coast has been plagued mostly by tired fish and chips, burgers based on of pre-frozen patties and pizzas spawned in the companies’ test kitchens. Now, hooray, that’s changing. The Netarts Schooner is proof of this.
Your wife remembers going to the Schooner in the late 1960s. The fact that it has survived so long gives it, she says, the reassuring quality of an anchor. At first, she remembers dinner. There appear to have been a number of ownership and management changes since then. Years ago they had great “Thai Tuesdays” which then abruptly ceased, probably when the chef left. You’ve been gone for several years and now when you return to find they have really upped their game.
Most pizzas don’t have the thrust to reach low Earth orbit, let alone high. Usually the culprit is their crust, sagged by Earth’s surly bonds. It’s too dense, too supple, too crispy, too bland or just plain plain. But The Schooner understands. Lift theirs and fold it with one hand lengthwise and it holds its fold (what some call the “New York fold” which allows you to hold your slice with one hand and adjust the tilting your fedora on the other). It is blistered from the wood oven but not burnt or cracked. Neither thick nor thin, it is just proportionate to the ingredients above. Pizzas in Portland tend to look like art schools, mixing ingredients like broccoli rabe and duck sausage. It’s a new school, and it can be excellent. The schooner goes old fashioned and is no less in stature. Lots of cheese (all melted cheese is good), you approved that it wasn’t fresh mozzarella which tends to release water which can soften the crust. A spike of mushrooms, but not just your standard cremini. You were able to distinctly taste (and deeply appreciate) all the oyster mushrooms and beautiful shitakes, lots of baby size, cute as Instagram puppies. The sauce could have been slightly livelier, as well as the homemade Italian sausage (more fennel seeds and capsaicin, please!). And you think they could have gone even higher if sourdough crusted. But these are quibbles from an admirer.
A green salad was way above average, built with sunflower and radish sprouts (delicious), purple cauliflower florets, a spiral thread of raw beetroot, several lettuces. Visually and tastefully, it breathed art. Asked for an extra portion of their excellent blue cheese dressing which they promptly delivered.
General Tso’s wings, which you ordered soft, were first coated in rice flour and fried so they were surprisingly crispy. Just like that, without the sauce, you could have inhaled them. The sweet and salty sauce, which we were tempted to lick off the plate, could easily have added salt. You think adding a pinch of five spice powder or Sichuan pepper would probably have added another delicious layer.
Their fish and chips are remarkably good. The cracker crumb coating they used was crispy, oil-free, delicious on its own, and let out the sweet flavor of the cod. It’s so much better than the typical pasta which tends to coat the fish like a greasy pancake. And it’s so much better than Panko, the sloth’s breadcrumbs. Your wife liked the potato flavor of the home fries. You will too, but think they would have been even better if they had been fried twice.
The calamari salad had chunks of calamari dredged in rice flour and fried, crisp, chewy and satisfying. The salad, made with green and purple cabbage and carrot, was sprinkled with mint and cilantro. The dressing was a kind of chilli jam. Tremendous.
The house chips with smoked salmon dip was made with house smoked salmon. It was supposed to be anointed with salmon roe, but there were none left. You both smelled the dip called for capers. And you smelled that in addition to the shallot sprinkled on top, a nimbus of other herbs including dill would have been nice. The chips were a bridge too far. They were lovely, two different colored potatoes, but unequal to store bought Kettle Chips.
For dessert one night you had a mixed berry crumble with vanilla ice cream. You loved the berries, but the crumble was disappointing. Your wife, a big crumble maker, and you, a big crumble eater (who live in a crumble house with a crumble dog and a crumble cat) believe in a crispy-buttery-sweet crumble. You think they should try again.
Gourmet food tends to mean food made with fine ingredients cooked in a complex (which usually means hard) way. Gourmet food tends to be simpler food with wider brush strokes. You were recently at a restaurant in Hong Kong that served 500-year-old salt that was good, but no better than Trader Joe’s. They also bragged about their olive oil made from olives picked during the full moon. At first you thought it was a joke, imagining olives being picked by werewolves. And you wondered how they train werewolves to do that. Werewolves, after all, are bloodthirsty carnivores who panic on scales. In fact, the restaurant was serious. Frankly, if they had replaced Kirkland, no one would have been wiser. In your opinion, the gourmand is often better than the gastronomic and that is what The Schooner serves.
A few pastas on the menu wouldn’t have hurt. And the homemade artisan bread from their wood oven would have been ideal. But you fully understand that restaurants have limited resources, especially in a place where it is difficult to find stable employees, sad consequence of covid housing and very expensive.
The schooner is a handsome boy. The interior decor has a coastal cabin feel. You can watch them power up the pizza oven that wouldn’t be out of place in Hagrid’s cottage. If it’s warm enough, you’d rather sit outside overlooking the bay with its tidal scent.
The Schooner serves comfort food made with integrity and style. They have burgers and steaks. Fresh oysters and Dungeness crab are picked from the bay a short walk away. They serve rainbow trout, halibut (a special one night), shrimp and steamers. Overall, the menu leans towards the sea, using local ingredients as much as possible. Fresh herbs are in the spotlight. The food is almost entirely handmade. He is animated by the intelligence of a leader. It is cleverly presented. It’s technically sharp. This is delicious. The service is friendly and helpful. The prices are fair.
La Goélette works for families, friends, lovers. You think-hope-believe-trust, this announces a culinary boom for a region that deserves it. You recommend The Schooner, a casual and welcoming restaurant with a smart kitchen.
2065 Boat Basin Road, Netarts, Oregon
The Ardent Gourmet recommends this restaurant.
You can also see this review and others on our website, www.ardentgourmet.com