French connection at Chateaulin

Its plush interior discreetly curtained from Ashland Plaza, Chateaulin cultivated the town's first air of Continental cuisine nearly 40 years ago.

Two years ago, the French aesthetic was translated next door as a casual bistro, formerly a gourmet store. New owners Doug and Patricia Volk kept the space's bottle shop and installed a sleek wine bar to encourage impromptu, lighter dining before and after daily service in the restaurant, where an Old World decor of dark wood, copper pots and other knickknacks has long held sway.

The uncluttered bistro serves a daily small-plate pairing with a full glass of wine for $10 starting at 3 p.m. Another budget-conscious choice is a half-glass of wine. The smaller quantity also appeals to Chateaulin's steady clientele of theatergoers, owing to its location on the Chautauqua Walkway, a few steps from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Former Chateaulin chef Chad Smith freshened up the mainstay menu of French country classics with a stronger focus on seasonally available and locally produced ingredients. Under chef Maggie Trujillo, of Lela's fame, the restaurant features a Sunday four-course menu for $44, which includes 3-ounce pours of wine with three of the courses.

The restaurant menu's appetizers are billed as small plates in the bistro, where bar-height tables aren't large enough to accommodate more than a couple of small plates and glasses of wine. But several tables do overlook the plaza from large windows, making them ideal seats for people-watching.

With the restaurant catering to special occasions and gastronomic adventures, the bistro makes customers feel comfortable in jeans. Although the ambiance is laid-back, service is welcoming and efficient, providing water and a bread basket shortly after menus.

Recommended: "Escargot au Pernod," a classic preparation of snails in an emerald-green emulsion of parsley and garlic with a splash of anise-flavored liqueur; France's ubiquitous onion soup topped with toasted bread and broiled Gruyere cheese; "canard poele," pan-seared duck breast with hazelnut-wheatberry pilaf, braised greens and pomegranate gastrique; "gigot de mouton campagnard," mustard-braised lamb shank with gnocchi, Brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms and squash in sage-brown butter sauce.

Alternative diets: One vegetarian entree and fish special daily; two meatless salads.

Beverages: Extensive list, arranged by varietal, of local, other domestic and imported wines by the half-glass, glass and bottle; $10 corkage fee to consume any of the 100-plus retail bottles in the bistro or restaurant; $15 corkage fee for outside bottles; Oregon and imported, bottled beers; specialty cocktails and a full bar.

Price range: Appetizers and small plates, $5 to $14; soups, $9 to $10; salads, $9 to $11; entrees, $18 to $36; cheeses, $7 to $9.

Extras: Reserve the restaurant's benefit table to donate 10 percent of the price of your meal to featured charities, including Sanctuary One and the Pink Ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness and survivor support; live music weekly in the bistro; parking on the Plaza.

Serving: Dinner in the restaurant from 5:30 p.m. to close Wednesday through Sunday. Small plates in the bistro from 11:30 a.m. to close Wednesday through Sunday. Tuesday service starts in April, and Monday service in June.

Info: Restaurant, 50 E. Main St., with bistro next door at 52 E. Main St., Ashland; 541-482-2264;

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