Rating South Bend Bistro
Food: () Gourmet Northwest cuisine simply prepared with European flavor and flair.
Service: () Professional and knowledgeable, with delivery of dishes perfectly timed.
Atmosphere: () Intimate seating amid simple decor with views to a large seasonal deck.
Location: 57080 Abbot Drive, Sunriver
Hours: 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.
Cuisine: American with Continental stylings
Price range: Starters $10 to $15, pasta courses $20 to $22, entrees $28 to $33
Credit cards: Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Kids’ menu: On request
Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Brie Napoleon (GF), Sicilian spaghetti, soups and salads
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Outdoor seating: Spacious deck
Reservations: Highly recommended
Contact: southbendbistro.com, 541-593-3881
For at least a dozen years, South Bend Bistro has held its place in Sunriver as a somewhat-off-the-beaten-path culinary treasure.
It’s under the ownership of a new chef these days, and the fare is every bit as good as it has ever been.
Chef Jeremy Buck bought the bistro in February 2016 from Lars and Jaymie Johnson, who had converted the former Walker’s Grill in the spring of 2005. He has continued a tradition of gourmet Northwest cuisine with European flair — including dishes of French, Italian and even Latin American style.
Buck grew up in a railroad town on the Iowa plains, but he has certainly made Oregon his home. Returning to the States after apprenticing as a young man at a restaurant in Florence, Italy, he and his wine-educated wife, Lian Schmidt, came directly to Oregon. He worked first in the Willamette Valley at Nick’s Italian Cafe, a McMinnville institution, and in 2006 opened the highly regarded Alloro Wine Bar & Restaurant in Bandon, on the southern coast.
Buck and Schmidt operated Alloro for eight years, incorporating Pacific seafood with wild mushrooms and complementing the menu with a wine list focused on classic Italian wines and Oregon pinot noir. When it was time for a change, Buck took several months to hike the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Once that adventure was over, the couple moved to Bend. When the South Bend Bistro came up for sale, Buck jumped at the opportunity.
In appearance, the bistro is much the same as when it was owned by the Johnsons. Decor is simple within the 40-seat restaurant. Its principal features are an eclectic easy-listening soundtrack (including Dave Brubeck, Bob Marley, The Temptations and the Grateful Dead) and large windows with a view of a spacious deck that may welcome as many as 60 additional diners at one time during the summer season.
Separate menus highlight specialty cocktails and Schmidt’s limited but well-considered wine list, offering West Coast and European wines by the glass and bottle.
Our recent visit came on a quiet weeknight when there was but a single server. The young gentleman who attended us was a true professional, knowledgeable about all menu selections, pleasantly conversational and well attuned to the etiquette of fine dining. He started us with a basket of warm bread, baked with Kalamata olives and rosemary, then took our drink and food orders, which were delivered with perfect timing.
As a first course we had four large, pan-seared diver sea scallops, served with a puree of cauliflower and brown butter. The sauce was a nice complement, sprinkled with crushed pistachios and served with wedges of mandarin orange and a slice of bacon.
Next, we shared a creamy carrot-ginger bisque, a blend of roasted carrot, ginger and onion drizzled with creme fraiche. A few droplets of parsley-infused olive oil floated on top of this delicious soup.
Finally, we had a salad of baby spinach with a warm bacon dressing that incorporated not only crispy porcine pieces, but also oyster mushrooms and roasted celery root. Thin slices of radish and sweet green apple sat on top along with large, house-made croutons.
And then came our entrees. My dining companion ordered duck breast, a half-dozen thick slices of farm-raised mallard served with a demi-glace of lingonberry, a wild Scandinavian blueberry. Savory corn polenta had a filling of goat cheese. Roasted, halved Brussels sprouts were presented in brown butter and topped with hazelnuts.
My pork tenderloin had a savory stuffing that included golden raisins and crunchy walnuts. A warm cognac-shallot sauce was a perfect accent, providing additional moisture and flavor. A trio of thick, grilled asparagus and a mound of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes completed the plate.
Overall, I found Buck’s preparations to be uncomplicated but perfectly prepared and delicious. The chef let the food speak for itself, matching sauces and purees rather than overwhelming with too many ingredients.
“I like fairly simple presentations and not too much manipulation,” the chef acknowledged. “My influence is primarily Italian-Mediterranean, so I’m mostly putting together three or four primary flavors and getting some texture going as well.
“I like to create the kind of food you’d share with family and friends — fresh food that doesn’t get in the way so you can focus on conversation.”
Buck said his Sunriver clientele dictates that he is “locked into meat and potatoes for the primary part of the menu.” In a different market, he confessed, he might offer more adventurous choices such as sweetbreads or other organ meats. Opening a Bend restaurant, he said, is a distinct possibility “over the medium term.”
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .