Out with the old, in with the new.
Restaurateur Gavin McMichael's newest venture, Gatsby's Brasserie Bar, is an entirely different restaurant than Marz Planetary Bistro, its Minnesota Avenue predecessor whose sale late last year and closure early this year were lamented by many.
The intimate Gatsby's, which opened Feb. 2, offers a less bohemian and more glitzy downtown Bend dining alternative to Marz.
The 39-seat restaurant has been extensively renovated in the fashion of a Roaring Twenties lounge or a Prohibition-era speakeasy. It now features hammered-brass tabletops, red-velvet upholstery and giant framed mirrors that seem to double the space. Wrought-iron trim, art deco columns and a host stand at the entrance are nice additional touches.
The staff is excellent. Manager Ryan Mortimore orchestrates operations from behind the bar, while servers clad in period dress attend diners with efficiency and grace, thoroughly describing nightly specials, taking and delivering orders as quickly as they are turned out.
Meanwhile, chef Keith Rydstrom and his kitchen have quickly mastered the simple, straightforward cuisine, perhaps best described as classic Americana. “He's the perfect fit for Gatsby's,” said McMichael, who also owns The Blacksmith Restaurant and Bourbon Street Sea&Soul Food in downtown Bend.
“I love the bold style and fashion of the '20s,” said McMichael in explaining why he chose that era as a theme for his latest eatery. “It was the first era when women were free to express their individuality. It was a carefree era, a party time.
“I thought it was a great use for the space. And since pre-Prohibition cocktails have been on the rise in popularity for several years now, we could tie those into our lounge menu.”
An example of the kind of food served at Gatsby's — the name comes from “The Great Gatsby,” a renowned 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald — is chicken Tetrazzini. Created in 1908 for opera star Luisa Tetrazzini by the chef at San Francisco's Palace Hotel, it was originally prepared with chicken, almonds, mushrooms and other vegetables in a butter-cream sauce flavored with sherry and served over spaghetti.
Gatsby's has altered the recipe primarily by using risotto as a base rather than noodles.
Sliced chicken breast, tender and peppery, is laid upon the pasta with a creamy mushroom-sherry sauce blended with onions and spinach, and finished with shredded Parmesan cheese. I loved it.
During three recent visits to Gatsby's, I have had an opportunity to sample a good number of the items from the menu, either on my plate or from that of a dining companion.
From the appetizer side of the ledger, I love the country pork pâté, a rich pureed meat served with small toasted crostinis, cornichon pickles and a generous dollop of house-made, whole-grain mustard. It's a classic “munchie,” but other starters are equally wonderful.
The baked onion tart, surprisingly light and flaky, was made with caramelized onions and cream cheese, and seasoned with thyme, garlic and anchovies. It was served with mixed greens.
Beef carpaccio, brushed with a dominating truffle vinaigrette, was perfect. It was served with capers, thinly sliced red onions, frisee greens, shaved Parmesan and crostinis.
Mussels were simply steamed in white wine — with butter, garlic, shallots and lemon — and served with a sprinkle of Chinese parsley and a lavish helping of french fries.
A pureed cauliflower soup du jour included bacon, shallots and red onions, along with a tangy drizzle of red pepper and crostinis for dipping. I should have ordered a bowl instead of a cup.
The featured Gatsby salad was anything but an ordinary house salad. Made with a head of butter lettuce along with baby greens, chopped parsley, tomatoes and cucumbers, its surprises include hearts of palm, green beans, a champagne vinaigrette and a fried goat-cheese crostini.
As far as entrees go, Gatsby's isn't trying to compete with the Blacksmith in the beef department, but its main menu selection of aged 10-ounce New York strip steaks offers good choices for red-meat lovers. One dining companion loved his brandy peppercorn preparation; steak Diane (with a garlic cream sauce) and steak Bordelaise (with a red-wine demi-glace) are other alternatives.
Another friend ordered the fondue chicken, a tender, pan-basted breast served with capers on a tasty potato cake, covered with a cheesy sauce of braised leeks and onions. It was one of the most generous and creative chicken-dinner presentations I've seen locally.
I had a double-cut pork chop, glazed with brown butter and served with a delicious apple-bacon relish. The meat was perfectly cooked, firm but easy to cut and chew, and the side dishes of roasted butternut squash and caramelized pearl onions were fine complements.
I've been even more excited about some of the nightly (or weekly) blackboard specials. The shrimp and grits are a revelation; I would even recommend them as a shared appetizer to start the meal. Lightly grilled prawns are served on a bed of rich yellow grits, accented with a mild salsa. The dish is simple but perfect.
My companion's pan-fried veal may have been the best dish of any I've sampled at Gatsby's. Very lightly breaded, seasoned with lemon and pepper, it was served in a red-wine reduction upon a savory mushroom hash with red peppers, zucchini, capers and caramelized pearl onions. It was similar to, but much heartier than, a veal piccata.
My final entree, seared ahi tuna, was good but not up to the standard set by other dishes. Ordered medium-rare, it was not cooked adequately throughout. But the preparation, with a rub of peppercorns, coriander and cumin, was tasty, and I liked the presentation on a bed of lentils with cooked tomatoes, asparagus spears and a red-pepper coulis.
I've tried just one selection from a short list of desserts — a classic vanilla-bean creme brulee with a few raspberries and a couple of mint leaves. It was a refreshing finish to the meal, and could only have been more suited to Gatsby's mood had it worn a feather boa instead of the mint leaves.
Five Fusion & Sushi Bar will collaborate with Tart Bistro chef Joe Benevento on Monday, April 25 in a French-Asian dinner to benefit Saving Grace. Cost of the 6 p.m. meal, including pairings from Sineann Winery, is $100. Benevento's five-course menu will be highlighted by grilled Szechuan lamb and seared sea scallops with ginger basmati rice and black sesame pesto. Call for reservations. 821 N.W. Wall St., Bend; www.5fusion .com or 541-382-9227.
Following an eight-month closure for reconstruction following a devastating August fire, Chan's Chinese Restaurant was scheduled to open on Monday, April 18. Owner Lap Chan said his restaurant, which serves Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine for lunch and dinner every day, will offer numerous specials to draw former customers and lure new ones. 1005 S.E. Third St., Bend; www.chanschinese.com or 541-389-1725.
Pho Viet & Cafe (B+): A traditional Vietnamese menu is highlighted by wonderful pho (beef-noodle) soup from a family recipe. Service and atmosphere don't quite keep pace, although the friendly owners bend over backward to make patrons feel welcome. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. 1326 N.E. Third St., Bend; www.phovietandcafe.com or 541-382-2929.
Bond Street Grill (A-): Its rich, pub-like decor intact, the former Decoy Bar&Grill has found new life under new ownership. The menu ranges from burgers and salads to fresh seafood entrees, while the carry-over staff is friendly and reliable. Open 11 a.m. to close Monday to Saturday. 1051 N.W. Bond St., Bend; www.bondstreetgrill.com or 541-318-4833.