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Tater Tots hit the melting pot, and come up magnífico

Taste
by: DeNISE FARWELL, The Oaks Bottom Public House menu warns that “they sound so wrong, but taste so right,” and that about sums up the totchos option, which elevates humble spuds to natchos splendor.

I finally drove to Westmoreland and checked out Oaks Bottom Public House (1621 S.E. Bybee Blvd., 503-232-1728).

The pub, which opened a year ago, is owned by Jerry Fechter and Jim Parker. Parker is a former executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild. Fechter also co-owns the New Old Lompoc in Northwest, the Hedge House in Southeast and the Fifth Quadrant (my favorite brew pub) in North Portland with John Younger.

Oaks Bottom is the smallest of Fechter's pubs, with just a few tables and booths plus a short bar. It has a friendly, cozy feel.

Until last week, I hadn't eaten a Tater Tot in years. I thought of them as school cafeteria food, like wiener wraps or sloppy Joes. Not anymore. At Oaks Bottom my friends and I decided to order the strange-sounding 'totchos,' Tater Tots treated like nachos.

The large serving is enormous, but the three of us devoured it in less than five minutes. A volcanic mound of piping-hot Tater Tots is covered with cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, plenty of sliced jalapeños, olives and onions, and topped with sour cream and a crater full of salsa.

Yeah, they sound kind of disgusting but believe me, they're downright addictive.

But I judge a pub primarily on its beer and the quality of the burgers. Oaks Bottom passes both tests.

Not surprisingly, the beer selection is excellent. The list includes three or four Lompoc beers, like the creamy Sockeye Stout and about eight guest taps, which recently included the superb Total Domination IPA from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene.

The burgers at Oaks Bottom are terrific, too. They start with the right ingredients: Strawberry Mountain Natural Beef and kaiser rolls from Portland French Bakery.

There's a trend at some places to serve giant burgers, but more does not always equal better. In fact, I really dislike burgers with huge beef patties.

Oaks Bottom does it just right; the 6-ounce patties aren't too big or too small, and they're cooked perfectly, not overdone.

The menu also includes several salads, sandwiches, fish and chips, macaroni and cheese, and kids' choices.

Oaks Bottom gets supercrowded at lunch and dinner. Recently at lunch, the sole waitress was working hard but spread far too thin. Fechter assures me that they're going to start scheduling more than one server to accommodate the bigger than expected lunch crowds.

Order some totchos - you'll be happy you did. Oaks Bottom is open daily 11:30 a.m. to midnight.

• • •

If you weren't in Cannon Beach last weekend, you missed a very good time at the first Cannon Beach Culinary Escape.

I was a judge at an 'Iron Chef'-style competition, and it was a blast. At the standing-room-only event we watched veteran chef Dick Scott of the popular Cannon Beach restaurant Bistro go up against young chef Aaron Bedard of the Stephanie Inn.

Each chef prepared a three-course meal in one hour using a variety of ingredients, including two secret ingredients that were only revealed to them at the last second: mussels and sole.

Bedard ended up beating Scott, but it was close. Both chefs impressed us with their ability to think on their feet and create delicious food under pressure.

Sorry you missed it? Well, this weekend, March 16 through March 18, at the Tillamook County Fairgrounds, several chef competitions are part of the schedule at the Taste of Tillamook County.

Other food-related events include an oyster shucking competition, a macaroni and cheese contest, and a clam chowder cook-off.

Visit www.tasteoftillamookcounty.com for a schedule.

• • •

Eat out to educate.

From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, Lauro Kitchen (3377 S.E. Division St., 503-239-7000) is hosting a benefit for Abernethy Elementary's Garden of Wonders schoolyard garden program.

Lauro Kitchen will donate 20 percent of the night's proceeds to the innovative program to help pay for a new fence for the garden and child-size gardening tools. Reservations are not accepted.

For information about the restaurant, visit www.laurokitchen.com. For information about the gardening program at Abernethy Elementary, visit www.gardenofwonders.org.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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