Planned Willamette Valley Fine Dining Restaurant Okta Opens July 13

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About 15,000 years ago, a 2,000-foot-tall ice dam cracked, releasing a monumental gush of water that swept across the northwest. The Missoula Floods, as they are known, tore through the ground in its path, carrying and scattering mud, silt and rocks across Idaho, Washington and Oregon in its pursuit of the Pacific. It happened again and again, as the glacier reformed and broke apart, taking the continent away and taking with it so much soil. The waters would collect in the Willamette Valley, creating the growing conditions that support the state’s famous wine region.

In the heart of Okta, Castagna alum Matthew Lightner’s highly-anticipated Willamette Valley restaurant sits on a basalt rock, transported to Oregon by Missoula floods. It’s a fitting homage to the restaurant, which is heavily influenced by the natural surroundings of the Pacific Northwest.

When Okta opens in McMinnville on Wednesday, July 13, diners will end up drinking, eating, and surrounding themselves with regional produce, from white oak banquettes to Willamette Valley wines in the glass. Oregon purple sea urchin and Coast Range-grown artichokes will land at the restaurant, with tasting menus expanding as produce arrives. The restaurant’s farm, 11 km from the hotel, supplies the kitchen with some of the 90 different varieties of plants that are growing at that moment, ingredients like purple spinach and Ozette potatoes, often described as the oldest potato variety grown in the Pacific Northwest. . In the kitchen, Lightner pairs potatoes with caviar and honeycomb, which he roasts over oak coals — at least, for now. Lightner is careful about referring to specific dishes or naming a set number of dishes that a given dinner may include.

“You’re going to have ingredients and dishes that will only be around for a short time,” says Lightner. “That’s our goal, to be in the moment.”

Lightner made a name for himself in the Oregon culinary community during his years at Castagna fine dining restaurant in Portland, during which time he made Food & Wines Best new chefs. During his career, Lightner has cooked for several Michelin-starred restaurants, including the influential and experimental Mugaritz in Spain. He returned to Oregon to open Okta at the Tributary Hotel, owned by Katie Jackson and Shaun Kajiwara of Jackson Family Wines. The project has garnered a lot of attention, in part because of the current nature of the Willamette Valley: unlike Napa or Sonoma, the Willamette Valley wine country isn’t home to many true gourmet restaurants offering tasting menus. Instead, many places in wine country are more laid back or at least relaxed – even nicer and more expensive restaurants, like Joel Palmer House or the Painted Lady, escape the trappings of what someone might spot in California wine country.

Upon entering the Okta, the design is understated and understated, a minimalist, chic sort of restaurant that takes inspiration from a Pacific Northwest home. Hacker Architects and Carolyn Richardson collaborated on the design of the space, pulling materials and drawing inspiration from elements of the area. Grays and greens in the dining room evoke classic overcast weather and lush Oregon forests, respectively, complemented by natural touches of oak and stone. “The Pacific Northwest has really inspired us in terms of the materials we use, from woods to basalt,” says Lightner. “We dove into the materials we wanted to use that really represented the Northwest.”

Downstairs, a bar and cellar lounge are outfitted in dark brown leathers and terra-cotta tiles, more reminiscent of the clay and soil that sustains the Willamette Valley. The downstairs lounge doubles as the restaurant’s wine library, curated by Portland veterinarian Ron Acierto. Many Portland drinkers may know Acierto from his time at the now closed Bar Muselet or pop-up Pinoy Noir; he also spent time at places like Bluehour, Lucier, Departure and Jory at the Allison Inn & Spa. Acierto will be available in the restaurant during service to provide pairing information and act as a sommelier, which Christine Langelier, Okta’s general manager, sees as an asset to the service as a whole.

“One of Ron’s strengths is his intimate familiarity with the people of this community,” says Langelier. “He has this super captivating smile; you want him to talk to you at the table. Once you’re involved in the conversation, you want him to manage that experience.

Take a look inside the restaurant below.

Evan Sung

A bowl of crab at Okta.

Evan Sung

A piece of duck lies on a stone slab next to a Hinona turnip in Okta.

Evan Sung

A lemon is filled with cultured cream and garnished with lemon thyme leaves at Okta.

Evan Sung

Meyer lemon with cultured cream and lemon thyme.

Okta is located at 618 NE 3rd Street in McMinnville. The restaurant is now accept reservations; tastings start at $165.

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