There’s a trio of restaurants here in the Rogue Valley that hold the highest standards for fine fare and outstanding wines. Larks Kitchen & Cocktails in Medford, Luna Café & Mercantile at the Ashland Hills Hotel and Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine at the Ashland Springs Hotel have a shared vision for local, fresh food that is visually spectacular and exquisite to taste.
The Neuman Hotel Group may operate the three restaurants, but their chefs are kings in the kitchen with free rein to create and innovate. Chefs Billy Buscher, Dave Georgeson and Franco Console (pictured above 2nd from left) lead creative, hardworking teams of gastronomic professionals who share a passion for only the best.
Chef Billy Buscher, Larks Kitchen & Cocktails
Billy Buscher is Larks Kitchen & Cocktails Executive Chef. His commitment to culinary inventiveness is well known after a stint at Alchemy in Ashland; he challenges the Rogue Valley restaurant scene. Buscher’s new menu features intense flavors and exquisite platings that amaze and delight, and reflect his classic contemporary French style.
Not your run-of-the-mill burger, Buscher’s Umami Bomb is an exercise in savory salvation. Consider the layers of flavor that make this half pound burger work: black garlic, tamari glaze, shiitake mushrooms, parmesan cream and onion jam on a house made bun. Also new is Buscher’s playful take on chicken-fried “nuggets,” shiitake mushrooms and chicken, maple-honey-lemon aioli and chili dust.
Now consider filet mignon with a bone marrow demi-glaze, a three cheese sandwich grilled to perfection and straw smoked carrots with a honey Bourbon glaze. Can you see the range and depth of Buscher’s style in just these few menu items? You can expect the unexpected at Larks Kitchen & Cocktails.
The restaurant offers weekend brunch, lunch and dinner in a spacious, beautifully lit setting; it’s a beautiful spot for casual dining or an upscale experience. There’s live music during happy hour, Monday through Friday, starting at 4:30pm, serious wine tasting and new craft cocktails that change seasonally.
Chef Dave Georgeson, Luna Cafe + Mercantile
Luna Café & Mercantile, housed within the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, is designed for quick, easy and delicious fare. Chef Dave Georgeson intentionally limits the menu but that doesn’t mean fast food. Sure there’s sundries and the best of local beers and wines in the bottle to go or stay, but there’s also a basil cheesecake and a fresh fruit tart, tempting for breakfast, a mid-afternoon reprieve or a late night snack. These masterpieces are created by Luna’s Pastry Chef, Kali Kennedy. Consider glass jars packed full with fresh fruit crumble and mascarpone mousse, panna cotta and house made ice cream. You’ll find seasonal flavors you just didn’t expect and are delighted to encounter.
Georgeson’s unique takes elevate the menu, but he’s not ready to break what’s proven so popular, like the Black Bean and Quinoa Burger or the Salmon Burger that will make you crave the river’s wild ride. Before you hit the river though, lunch is scratch-made at Luna Café, so enjoy their soups, sandwiches, salads and great pizzas.
Luna’s retro feel is a pleasant departure from the everyday and there’s lots of brilliant orange and blue to delight your senses. Organic shapes, kitchy lighting and truly beautiful op art make every visit an exceptional experience whether it’s for Jazz Sundays, a leisurely lunch, a late afternoon pick-me-up or a drink on the deck with expansive views of the hills.
Chef Franco Console, Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine
Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland is the Neuman Hotel Group’s signature restaurant. Franco Console is the Executive Chef and king of the kitchen. He’s a local boy, grown up right here in the Rogue Valley and has been at Larks for 14 years. He has a passion for fresh local like you’d expect in a boutique bistro with 4 tables but Console exercises that precision craft in a big restaurant that doesn’t sacrifice one bit to deliver quality.
Console’s strong hands are gentle as he sorts through the baby carrots, straightening out the delicate fronds. He crushes fresh garlic scapes for the sheer pleasure of smelling them.
Console can name the farmers and describe the soils where his grains, vegetables, herbs and flowers are provisioned: Dunbar Farms, Wandering Roots, Pennington, TerraSol Organics, Uproot Meats. The growers email Console on Saturday with the best of what they have on hand, and that’s how Console and his team make up the specials on the menu.
Console uses the bulk buying opportunity of three restaurants to insure that the Neuman Hotel Group gets a good price for the produce and other products they need and the grower can find a fair market for what they grow.
“We’re trying to find out how to commit and say, ‘hey, if you’re growing this for us, we’ll buy it all’ and can spread it out to all our restaurants,” says Console. “I really want to start canning here at the “Springs” (Ashland Springs Hotel) so we’ll order 300 pounds of tomatoes a week when they’re going off. And then come January, when we only have carrots and beets and kale, we can have summer tomatoes. That’s where I want to see this restaurant go.”
Console is sensitive to the seasons and wants guests to have a true farm to table experience at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine. He won’t finalize the summer menu until Bella Ella’s tomatoes come out.
“Our menu revolves around our all-star players and we go from there,” Console explained. “I won’t make the summer menu until the mushroom guy, Louie comes around; and I didn’t want to start the menu until ramps come out and I can make ramp butter. And when the ramps run out hopefully the tomatoes will be in because the summer menu is all about tomatoes.”
Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine has a new pastry chef in Sara Variel, and right off the bat, she won the 2019 Oregon Chocolate Festival competition. With Variel on staff, there’s every reason to plan for dessert as part of your Larks dining experience.
“I was so excited to get the strawberries at the market on Saturday! I can tell the difference in the herbs we get here, the edible flowers that are grown in Oregon, said Variel. “Stone fruits are my favorite and I’ll use everything I can. I’m really excited about cherries, peaches, pears.”
“I feel very much an artist and so I put a lot of that into my food,” Variel noted. “I like my plates to be structurally interesting so I use a lot of color and clean lines and when you see it you say, ‘wow!’ and they photograph it and then they eat it! For me, there has to be a balance between sugar and flavor.”
Buscher, Georgeson and Console and the staff of the three restaurants are one team who work together seamlessly. The chefs call on each other for advice, to share successes and try out new ideas. The crews of each kitchen, and the servers, too, can move easily as needed between the three restaurants. This cross training means that any one of the three restaurants can successfully execute large scale catered events in house or on location for hundreds of guests with especially designed menus crafted to the clients’ tastes.
Top image: Chef Franco Console, 2nd from left, with Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine service team.