The Sunriver Resort is beautiful this time of year. Throughout December, as the resort celebrates its annual Traditions festival, the approach road winds through a forest of trees festooned with white lights. The Sunriver Lodge itself is aglow in reds and blues and greens, and in its lobby is a teddy bear that’s nearly as large as its giant Christmas tree.
The holiday cheer extends to the Meadows At The Lodge restaurant and its Owl’s Nest lounge. Poinsettias in seasonal bloom accent hanging greenery, while the full wall of picture windows on the west side of the restaurant affords a wonderful view of the Cascade peaks by day, the lighted woodland by night.
Given this grand stage, one might anticipate fine cuisine and service to match. In fact, both fall somewhat short of expectations. My food was good, but not good enough to justify the prices charged, and there were often subtle differences between the plates and their descriptions on the menu.
Service was polite and professional but noticeably slow. It shouldn’t take the kitchen a half-hour, for instance, to get a salad to a table, especially when the restaurant is barely half full.
Armed with a dinner reservation, a companion and I arrived one recent early evening and were promptly seated. Window tables were occupied, but we were happy with an elevated booth that still afforded a view of the twinkling outside lights.
A gentlemanly waiter started us with glasses of iced water and a basket of warm, sliced sourdough bread, accompanied by butter and an excellent olive tapenade. We placed our order for salads and entrees, then sat back with glasses of wine as we awaited their arrival.
Soon thereafter, a table of four adults and two young children came into the restaurant and took a table not far from ours. Some 15 minutes later, as I tried to restrain myself from reaching for yet another slice of bread, I looked up to see their appetizer courses being served.
Maybe coming with impatient kids steps up the delivery schedule. Another 10 minutes passed before our salads arrived.
My companion dived right into her Cascade Caesar salad. Chopped romaine lettuce was tossed in a house dressing, with dried cranberries and candied walnuts, topped with grated Asiago cheese and house-made crostinis. She thoroughly enjoyed it.
Seeking adventure, I had an Asian-style calamari salad. Breaded, crispy-fried baby squid, complete with tentacles, were served on a bed of chopped Napa cabbage with watercress greens, tossed in a Japanese-influenced miso vinaigrette. The menu had also promised cashews, which it did not have; but unexpected slices of ginger more than sufficed for the other shortcoming.
Pros and cons
Another 10 minutes passed after our salad plates had been cleared before our main courses arrived. The adjacent table of six was already being offered dessert.
For my entrée, I ordered “seared duck breast topped with a curried winter fruit compote.” The meat came as two thick medallions; I would not have minded if they had been cooked a little longer, as the meat was too rare for my preference. The compote, while tasty enough, was not a topping but instead provided a bed for a cheesy polenta cake; this was supposed to have been grilled, but instead seemed to have been baked in a mold like cornbread.
My companion had a surf-and-turf dish called Three Sisters, built around a petite filet of beef tenderloin (cooked very rare, as she likes it) and three lightly sautéed prawns, also cooked perfectly. A mildly spicy green-peppercorn sauce, which the menu had promised would “top” the tenderloin, came on the side. Potatoes, mashed with sour cream and basil, were a pleasing departure from more typical preparations.
Both of our dishes were accompanied by fresh seasonal vegetables. On this particular date, they were a long slice of roasted eggplant and whole green beans. My companion, whose tastes are more conventional than my own, wasn’t thrilled. For starters, she doesn’t like eggplant, and I know she’s not alone in that regard. And as she crunched into a bean, she commented: “These are definitely al dente, which I’m trying to learn to like.”
Dinner portions were not oversized: A salad and entrée were just about right for a meal. This is probably not a restaurant where you should expect leftovers.
The wine list is disappointing, with very pedestrian choices in terms of by-the-glass pours. What’s more, our server clearly did not have the wine knowledge to make recommendations.
I normally would have chosen a zinfandel or syrah to accompany my duck, but neither was available by the glass, and with a 17-mile drive back to Bend ahead of us, I didn’t want to invest in a bottle. I settled for a Hedges CMS blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah.
Where’s the cheese?
On another day, I popped into the adjacent Owl’s Nest lounge for a weekend lunch. As football flashed on the televisions, I ordered a Diet Pepsi and a traditional Reuben sandwich from the bartender.
The sandwich had a lofty price tag — $12 for a sandwich that probably would be $7.95 or $8.50 at most cafes — so I hoped it would meet my equivalently high expectations. And the corned beef was good, stacked high between two slices of lightly grilled, marbled rye bread spread with Thousand Island dressing.
But the sauerkraut that’s an integral part of any Reuben was added very sparingly. And if this was indeed traditional, what happened to the Swiss cheese? To add insult to injury, the accompanying homemade chips were overcooked.
If you happen to be at the Sunriver Lodge, by all means, pause for a meal here. But it’s not worth the drive from Bend just to dine. There are too many worthy choices much closer to home.
Demetri’s Greek American Cusina (B+). Bend’s only authentic Greek restaurant has drawn regulars for seven years despite an off-the-beaten-track, east-side location. The cuisine is light and flavorful, rich with herbs and spices. Ambience is very casual and family friendly, as befits a Greek-style taverna. Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday. 425 Windy Knolls Drive, Bend. 318-0111 Marz Bistro (A-). A great choice if you want a good dinner but have no idea what kind of meal you want, Marz offers sophisticated comfort food with a range of international influences. Service is relaxed but friendly and efficient; atmosphere is festive and eclectic, with tables closely packed and abstract art on the walls. Open 5 p.m. to close every day. 163 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend. 389-2025 The Downtowner (A-). The hot and cold sandwiches, soups and salads are can’t-miss fare at this intimate hole-in-the-wall café. Service is basic but efficient: Order at the counter, bus your own table. Seating is crowded and diners fight for space with those waiting in line, but it’s a great East Coast-style bargain. Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 852 N.W. Brooks St., Bend; 388-2467. Blue Olive (B+). John Nelson is a fine chef, preparing creative and seasonal Pacific Northwest cuisine with Swedish panache at the new Brasada Ranch resort. Service is professional if casual and low-key. And the views are wonderful, but perhaps not worth the half-hour drive from Bend in winter, when they are eliminated by early nightfall. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner 5 to 9 p.m. every day. 16986 S.W. Brasada Ranch Road, Powell Butte. 526-6862, www .blueoliverest.net