In another decade, Scanlon's was regarded as one of Central Oregon's finest restaurants.
Times change. But after years of being an afterthought in dining discussions, the restaurant at the Athletic Club of Bend is reasserting its claim to being one of the region's “go-to” spots for fine dining.
The decline at Scanlon's began in 2001, when celebrated chef Greg Unruh left with business partner Carin Hill (now Carin Cameron) to establish Cork Restaurant and Wine Bar.
Cork became a cornerstone of downtown Bend's fine-dining revolution for the next nine years. Meanwhile, Scanlon's went through a series of chefs and food-and-beverage directors, along the way losing its edge in the highly competitive restaurant business.
Cork is now gone, having sold last year to make way for Common Table. Scanlon's is still here, and it's showing plenty of new life.
After a two-month renovation, which opened up the kitchen and gave the dining room a more upscale identity than the adjoining club, the restaurant reopened in late June. It has a new food-and-bev chief — Emily Pelletier, formerly in the wine industry — and a new chef, Chris Tate, who came to Scanlon's via Portland restaurants and Redmond's Eagle Crest Resort. Both are professionals who seem dedicated to elevating Scanlon's back to a first-tier reputation.
“The concept is a marriage between the club and restaurant,” Pelletier said.
To that end, with an eye toward satisfying a health-conscious clientele, Scanlon's now lists complete nutritional values of meals on its dinner and Sunday brunch menus. Here's what you'll read about a wood-grilled venison strip loin, for instance: “fat 8.5g, calories 308, protein 37.2g, carb 17g, sodium 154mg, dietary fiber 4.2g.”
Coincidentally or not, the lunch menu does not list nutritional values, and Tate is not in the kitchen at midday.
And as much as I loved my recent dinner at Scanlon's, I was sorely disappointed in lunch, especially with regard to service, but also in terms of food.
I'll start with the good news. Dinner was spectacular.
My companion and I started with small plates of bacon-wrapped radicchio and wood-fired cauliflower. A marinade took some of the bitterness out of the greens, which were wrapped with goat cheese in the smoky bacon and served with basil pesto sauce. Cauliflower was cooked with pine nuts, mint and chile flakes, giving them a flavor that was at once sweet and spicy.
I followed with a cup of chilled gazpacho. The classic tomato-based soup was pureed with onions, garlic and basil, topped with slivers of bell pepper and tangy lime.
My friend's Caesar salad was a creative variation that featured oven-cured tomatoes and pine nuts tossed with romaine leaves, topped with Asiago cheese and served with grilled flatbread. Greek yogurt added a new dimension to a traditional Caesar dressing.
In keeping with her classic meal approach, my dining partner chose a petite filet entree. The premium beef was cooked rare with a warm center, exactly as she likes it. A jam-like “Oregon berry” relish — it appeared to be blackberry — added extra flavor, along with baked asparagus, red peppers and rosemary-seasoned red potatoes.
My chicken dish, a variation of the French “coq au vin” braised in red wine, was a hearty dish with a smoky flavor that should be a winter staple. A leg and thigh (had I been offered a choice, I would have preferred a breast and wing) were laid upon a bed of stewed green lentils with peppery arugula and thick slices of grilled yam.
For dessert, we fell in love with a slice of boca negra, an intensely chocolate cake whose name in Spanish translates to “black mouth.” Made with a touch of bourbon, it was sweet and rich and everything a chocolate cake should be.
A slice of semifreddo, a frozen Italian mousse made by combining ice cream with whipped cream, was good but didn't hold a candle to the boca negra.
Service throughout our dinner was excellent. Our server was friendly and engaging, prompt with order-taking and delivery, and quick to check back on our orders and refill our drinks.
Lunch, sadly, was a totally different story. After we were greeted, seated and presented with menus and glasses of water, we struggled to get our waiter's attention. And the timing of food delivery was terrible, in part because two different kitchens prepared different parts of the same meal.
We arrived at noon. Only one other table was occupied. We chose our meals in fewer than five minutes, then waited another five minutes for our orders to be taken. At 12:15, my companion was served a glass of iced tea. She requested sugar, and it took another five minutes for that to arrive.
Her black bean-quinoa salad came at 12:30. My grilled shrimp-and-cabbage salad was delivered at 12:35. I had taken no more than two bites when my buffalo cheeseburger was served. By the time I got to it, of course, it was already well on its way to being cold. A few minutes later, my friend's veggie sandwich was delivered.
To Scanlon's credit, both of our salads were excellent. My friend's Latin-flavored salad combined the namesake black beans and quinoa, a Peruvian grain, with tomatoes, cucumbers, mangoes, basil and feta cheese, laying them upon a bed of greens — leaf lettuce, baby spinach, even dandelion greens and geranium leaves — tossed with balsamic vinaigrette.
My salad boasted five perfectly grilled shrimp upon a raw slaw with roasted piquillo peppers, bell peppers and carrots, served with citrus vinaigrette and crispy pita chips.
Neither of us cared for our sandwiches, however. My burger, made with 1⁄3-pound of ground bison meat, was very dry. Buffalo is a very lean meat, and when cooked medium-well loses its juices and needs added moisture. But the sesame roll on which it was served was undressed, and no condiments — no ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise — were offered. I finally asked for ketchup, but wished I had more. Lettuce, onion and tomato weren't enough.
My friend was likewise disappointed in her veggie sandwich, served on toasted sourdough bread (she could have chosen rye or whole wheat). It was filled with hummus, avocado, roasted tomatoes, sliced red onion, lettuce and melted provolone cheese, but she felt that the flavors were flat and didn't stand out.
I look forward to trying brunch at Scanlon's, served Sundays only. Chef Tate is always in the kitchen for this meal, and the roster of eggs Benedict and specialty drinks, including a fresh ginger-and-orange mimosa, is appealing.
Bourbon Street Sea & Soul Food in downtown Bend closed Oct. 1. Owner Gavin McMichael, who took over a lease from Staccato at the Firehall in July 2010 and opened Bourbon Street, has not yet announced plans for the building. McMichael also owns The Blacksmith restaurant and Gatsby's Fondue Lounge in downtown Bend.
Thyme Restaurant, at the Sisters Athletic Club and FivePine Resort, closed Oct. 3. The lunch-and-dinner establishment, operated by T.R. McCrystal, owner of Jen's Garden in Sisters, had opened in April 2010 in the place of two previous restaurants. No future plans for the space have been announced.