A tour for your taste buds

A progressive-dinner concept that's gaining nationwide attention has come to the Rogue Valley.

Medford and Ashland restaurants are hosting their first Dishcrawl events today with more planned for April and May. With a presence in Portland and Bend, the company based in Cupertino, Calif., has spread its brand of culinary recreation to 40 states and 13 Canadian cities since 2010.

"The neighborhood dining experience is how it's billed," says Michael D. Davis, Dishcrawl's Medford ambassador. "I think Medford is just exactly the right place at the right time."

Dishcrawl added Medford to its roster about a month ago after establishing a presence in Ashland, says Davis. "Ambassadors" in each city solicit four restaurants per month to prepare three tasting portions apiece for Dishcrawl. The exception is the last restaurant, which supplies a single dessert sample.

"This is more just bite-sized kind of food," says Jayla Rae Ardelean, Dishcrawl's Ashland ambassador. "Dishcrawl isn't necessarily about the restaurants making a bunch of money."

Both ambassadors describe Dishcrawl as a way for diners to socialize and hopefully taste foods that aren't on the restaurants' regular menus. The eateries gain exposure and some creative license to cook for a captive audience. The cost is $45 per participant, a portion of which is paid to the restaurants. Forty tickets were available for Medford's first Dishcrawl, 25 in Ashland.

"I think it's as much of a social moment for people," says David Graham, executive chef and owner of 38 Central, which signed on for Dishcrawl's Medford debut. "This is the time for Medford to finally congeal into something important."

The food-crawl format already has proven popular over the past two years in downtown Medford. The annual Smudge Pot Stroll, coinciding with the Pear Blossom Festival, is a walking tour of about 15 downtown restaurants that — unlike Dishcrawl — pairs tasting portions with wine. This year's stroll is planned for 5 p.m. Friday, April 12.

Graham says that although restaurants basically donate food and labor toward events such as Dishcrawl and the Smudge Pot Stroll, he sees it as promotion for his and other locally owned businesses. Dishcrawl events in Medford are well-timed for summer, the downtown's slowest season, he adds. Restaurants on Dishcrawl's schedule remain open to regular customers.

With Dragonfly Cafe and Gardens among the spots on today's itinerary, Ashland's next Dishcrawl is set for 7 p.m. May 14. The town's April event will host a private party, an option for groups of 10 or more; the cost varies.

For more information, see www.dishcrawl.com.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

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