Local Lunch Gals: My Party Bus, Koho Bistro, Excelsior and More

L-R: Maria, Julia, Julie, Jennifer and Sean

The Local Lunch Gals hit the town in style this past Friday: we were picked up in a totally awesome, completely renovated shuttle bus called My Party Bus. Painted entirely black on the outside, aside from the words My Party Bus, the inside has all the luxuries of a limousine with the added bonus of having a lot more room. Wood laminate floors run down the center of the bus, and black and grey seating with accent pillows create a chic and stately ambiance. Ice and water was available along with wine glasses for the bottles of wine we brought with us. Although this bus can hold up to 22 passengers, it was just the three Lunch Gals, Maria Jennifer and I, along with one of our best friends from high school who is in town visiting from Illinois, Julie Neal. We were feeling a lot like the Lucky Local Lunch Gals having a sleek one-of-a-kind party bus all to ourselves.

Koho Bistro’s outstanding Cheese Plate

My Party Bus is a family business, owner Sean Lee was our host for the day while his father was responsible for driving the bus. As soon as we sat down, the music was on and we were popping the cork on a bottle of King Estate 2010 Pfeiffer Vineyard Pinot Gris. We were on our way to Koho Bistro for appetizers, in style.

Koho Bistro is located in a strip mall in southwest Eugene off of Bailey Hill across from Churchill High School. The atmosphere is sleek and modern, yet comfortable and inviting. We opted to sit in the lounge where a large u-shaped booth was the perfect spot for us. Happy to see an excellent selection of wines, including local offerings, we ordered two glasses of the Kandarian Cellars Willamette Valley 2010 Blue Eye Sauvignon Blanc and two glasses of the Benton-Lane 2011 Pinot Gris. The small bites menu had intriguing selections, and we singled out the Cheese Plate, Pomme Frites, and Asparagus Flan. The Pomme Frites arrived first, and these house-cut thin fries were tossed with garlic, truffle oil and salt and served with house made ketchup. We all thought the fries were delicious, and we especially liked the house made ketchup. When the Cheese Plate and the Asparagus Flan arrived, we all oohed and ahhed over the presentation – specifically over the Cheese Plate. Three types of cheese, a French Morbier (a layer of evening milk and a layer of morning milk separated by ash), an Italian mild Gorgonzola and a smoked Gouda from Holland, were neatly placed on a wooden slab and surrounded by a variety of goodies. The goodies included sour cherry chutney, brownie dirt (tasty little brownie crumbs), a red wine reduction drizzle, locally dehydrated strawberries, chutney with dates, spiced baked pear slices, locally roasted and candied walnuts and grilled slices of brioche. Absolutely outstanding, every single morsel of delicious goodness was truly and entirely savored. The Asparagus Flan was a palatable custard with asparagus tips and sea beans in a white wine butter sauce. Packed full of flavor, the light and airy textured custard was delicious with the flavors of the asparagus tips, sea beans and butter sauce. The four of us loved Koho Bistro, and we’ll be returning in the very near future for another fabulous Cheese Plate.

We left Koho on our “feels like we’re celebrities” bus, My Party Bus, and headed for our lunch destination, Excelsior Inn & Ristorante Italiano. The Excelsior is housed inside a gorgeous home that was built in 1912 as a sorority house for the University of Oregon. In 1972, it was opened as the Excelsior Cafe, and in 1993 chef Maurizio Paparo purchased the property and transformed it into the Excelsior Inn and Ristorante Italiano. It’s beautiful wood floors, high ceilings and stained glass windows make this restaurant one of the most gorgeous places in town to wine and dine. We were seated in the front courtyard at a beautifully shaded table, and the weather outside was perfect for outdoor dining. Looking first at their wine list, as I always do, I was elated to see a great number of excellent local and international selections, and although I almost always order something local, we decided that a bottle of Prosecco would be the ideal accompaniment to a sunny, gorgeous day at a fine Italian eatery.

Couscous Bay Shrimp Salad

An excellent and diverse lunch menu made the decision making process difficult for a couple of us, but for me, the first and only item I saw on the menu was the Fritelle di Granchio, also known as, Dungeness Crab Cakes. When the others did make up their minds, two of the lunches ordered were specials, Baked Salmon over Wheat Berries and Couscous Bay Shrimp Salad, and the other two were Insalata Mista with added prawns (farm fresh greens and balsamic dressing) and Pollo alla Churasco (grilled chicken, pepper jack and avocado sandwich).  Of the five entrees, Sean Lee had joined us for lunch, two of them were our absolute favorites – the Dungeness Crab Cakes and the Couscous Bay Shrimp Salad. The Duneness Crab Cakes were heavenly. Cooked to golden brown and topped with a flavorful remoulade, these ambrosial fresh, lump crab meat cakes were some of the best I’ve ever had. Alongside the crab cakes were fresh spring greens and julienned carrots drizzled with a light balsamic dressing – the entire entree was a perfect pairing with the Italian Prosecco, and I couldn’t have been happier with my choices. The Couscous Bay Shrimp Salad was utterly refreshing in flavors and temperature. The ultimate meal on a hot summer afternoon, this rejuvenating blend of couscous, tomatoes, red onion and fresh herbs-including mint-was topped with loads of tasty bay shrimp.

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, manager Sasha Elliott, surprised us with a plate of mouthwatering desserts. 5 slices of heavenly goodness for each one of us to delight in: a Flourless Chocolate Torte, 2 slices of Italian Almond Lemon Torte, Hazelnut Liquor Cake, Strawberry Chardonnay Cake, and a side of home made raspberry sauce. As much as we loved each piece of worthy sweetness, we all unconditionally loved the Strawberry Chardonnay Cake…wow, that was good, and all of these tasty desserts were made by their 76 years young Serbian pastry chef, who has been baking at Excelsior for 27 years.

flight of Ninkasi micro brews…and Jennifer being, well, Jennifer

Although our superstar time on My Party Bus was over, we decided we would continue the day with a beer or two at Ninkasi Brewery, located in Eugene’s funkiest neighborhood, the Whitaker. We tried a sampler of five Ninkasi brews, and hands down, our favorite was the Oatis Oatmeal Stout. From Ninkasi, we walked over to Sam Bond’s Garage and enjoyed a bottle of Territorial’s 2009 Pinot Gris, and once Territorial Vineyards and Wine Company opened, we walked from Sam Bond’s Garage to Territorial, where we enjoyed more of their bright and refreshing Pinot Gris. We were finally exhausted from our long day of good times and great food and wine, so we walked back to Ninkasi where a friend picked us up and took us home. And it just so happened, on our walk from Territorial to Ninkasi, we passed in front of an eclectic Whitaker style bungalow with a yard full of eye catching garden decor – typical Whitaker sighting – but, what wasn’t typical about this home was the person sitting on the front porch. Recognizing him immediately, I pointed out to him that I knew him from High Street Brewery, where he bartends and makes a mean Lemon Drop Martini; however, I also recognized him from the nationally known Ska-Swing band, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.

Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

Established in 1989, just a year after we all graduated from high school, Eugene’s Cherry Poppin’ Daddies hit the music scene pretty fast in our hometown and across the West Coasts Ska-Swing music scene, but in 1997, their Billboard hit, Zoot Suit Riot, got them national attention, and out of Billboards top 200, Zoot Suit Riot was number seventeen. Although I’ve met and chatted with the Daddies bass guitarist, Dan Shmid, at High Street Brewery, Julie and Jennifer had never met him before, and they were just a tad bit excited to be talking to a member of the famous, and still performing, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Sorry folks, Jennifer and Julie were too giddy to think of snapping a photo, and they missed their opportunity. But, we may just need to go get a Lemon Drop Martini at High Street Brewery before Julie heads back to Illinois…this time, we’ll be camera ready.

-To find out more about My Party Bus, including information on their stellar wine, restaurant and brewery tours, to name a few, check out their facebook page by clicking here.

-For a full photo essay of our super fun day on the town, click here.

-If you would like to chauffeur the Gals on one of their lunch outings, please contact Julia at [email protected]


Julia has been in the wine industry for nearly 20 years. First through creating European wine tours, then opening her own wine bar, Julia loves writing about food & wine on her website, WineJulia.com.

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