Paulee: Wine Country Jewel

Located in Dundee, Oregon - the heart of Oregon's wine country - Paulee opened late last spring to quite a buzz. The idea was to become a gateway of sorts to eating in wine country (not that there aren't other excellent restaurants in the area, but this one brought in some big names and big ideas). They were going to grow much of their own vegetables in a farm on the other side of the parking lot and source everything else locally, but the farm hasn't taken off (reportedly because of a late start, so maybe 2013 will be different). Paulee was also going to build on the talents of chef Daniel Mondok (Sel Gris, Genoa) and become a true destination spot. 

It worked, for the most part. The Oregonian gave the restaurant an A- review in August and it was suddenly the place everyone was talking about despite a 45-60 minute drive from Portland. Being west-siders, of course we had to check it out. We went twice, both times for brunch rather than dinner, and found the menu is still quite enticing but cheaper and perhaps a little more accessible. 

Paulee resides underneath the Inn at Red Hills, just down the street from Red Hills Market (another solid destination for food and drink and shopping) and a short drive from many of the big name wineries (Sokol Blosser, for instance, is less than five minutes away by car).

The decor is casual and supposed to be comfortable, though the chairs are a little hard if you plan on staying longer than the typical time it takes to eat a meal. Since this is wine country and Paulee has an extensive wine list, grab an extra pillow, especially if you dine with friends.

We made  reservations for brunch - 10:30am on a Saturday - because we thought it was going to be busy. It was not. Only two other couples were seated the first time we went and about the same on our second visit, when we decided the reservations weren't necessary. For dinner I would recommend them, especially on the weekend.

Also, keep in mind there is really only one way to get to Dundee from the Portland area - Highway 99W. Just outside of Newberg this four-lane highway narrows down to two as it enters Dundee and after about 11am or noon on Saturday or Sunday that usually means snarled traffic for people heading out for wine tasting. Get into Dundee early or just plan on spending some time sitting in traffic. Your call.

Coffee comes from Portland's Heart Roasters. It's okay, not great, though with Heart's continuous rotation of bean sources it very likely could change from visit to visit. The fireplace is a nice touch in the dining room and on the opposite side is outdoor seating. We asked our server if the patio was dog-friendly and didn't really get a straight answer. He talked some about how people don't like sitting out there because it can be loud (Paulee is right on 99W) and then said people can tie up their dog and come and eat with no problems. That, sir, was not what I asked, but considering how long it took to come up with that answer I didn't press further. 

For our first visit we ordered non-breakfast type of food. My choice was the cacio e pepe (fettuccine, pepper and parm served with prosciutto and bread). I hadn't seen it on the menu of any Italian restaurants I'd been to in Portland and heard good things, so I had to get it.

Verdict? Damn good. Really, really good. I'd definitely recommend it.

Wifey ordered the Paulee burger with smoked bacon, egg, spicy tomato jam, lettuce, aioli, cacio di roma and onions on a potato bun, which came with fries.

Quite the spread. And check out how perfectly the egg was cooked.

Love the way the yolk exploded out of that. The fries were okay, but the burger...wow. Just wow. I mean, look at this thing!

Both of those dishes were a huge hit. In fact, the meal was so good we went back two weeks later, this time opting for breakfast fare. Remembering how good the smoked bacon was on the burger, I ordered a side of it for us to share.

It was bacon. I mean, it was good bacon, we enjoyed it, but it wasn't super special or anything. 

Wifey started us off with the Benedict, served with pancetta, egg, avocado and Hollandaise on toasted brioche with potatoes on the side. 

The Hollandaise and everything was good, but we didn't think the brioche was the best fit for a bread base. Also, the potatoes could use more time in the pan - they didn't see as if they were quite cooked through enough. Nice color, but still a tad undercooked inside.

I ordered the "Skillet" which is basically a hash. This one came with chorizo, potatoes, eggs and a very light spicy cream sauce.

It had potential, it really did, but it didn't measure up to the dishes we ordered for our previous lunch visit. We did decide to follow this meal with a dessert, the special bread pudding. That day's version was a chocolate peanut butter bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and came with drizzles of chocolate and caramel sauce.

It sounded amazing and looks very pretty, but the flavors really didn't do it for us. 

Overall we recommend Paulee. The lunch items seem better executed than the breakfast ones and much of the dinner menu looks outstanding. It is definitely not the place to go for a cheap meal - both brunches ended up being around $40 for the two of us, which no alcohol - though we did bring home leftovers each time. The service was pretty good, but maybe too chatty for my tastes. This is probably directly related to the fact the restaurant was so empty both times.

It will be interesting to see how things move forward with Paulee. It was recently announced Mondok has left the restaurant and the idealistic plans of building a farm still hasn't been proven. And there also remains a question in my mind about the viability of such a high-end restaurant in the area. Yes, there is Portland money that comes in, but only on the weekends - people aren't driving out there after work during the week. Is it sustainable for weekday breakfast and lunch

I hope that it is. It's an excellent weekend brunch option and someday we'd like to make it out for dinner.

Dog-Friendly? Well, again, still not sure. I wouldn't bet on it, but if they seem fine with leaving your dog outside while you it inside I find it hard to believe they wouldn't let your dog sit under your table while you dine al fresco.

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