Restaurant review: Pronghorn Club

Once-exclusive near Bend club now opens restaurants to public

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin /

Published May 20, 2011 at 05:00AM

The beautiful Pronghorn Club golf resort northeast of Bend, long an exclusive members-only retreat, had a change of heart last May when the Arizona-based Troon Golf company took over management.

Now its restaurants — the Trailhead, Cascada and Chanterelle — are open to the general public. And although visitors still must announce themselves at the main gate, from where a security guard may call ahead to confirm dining plans, Pronghorn is worth an evening visit. That's especially true when the resort presents one of its frequent signature or wine-pairing dinners, hosted by resort chefs Mike Shibel and Katie Yount.

With spring weather now upon the High Desert and golfers out in greater numbers on Pronghorn's Jack Nicklaus and Ernie Fazio courses, Pronghorn has tossed off its winter cocoon. All of its food and beverage outlets are now open and will remain so well into fall.

The casual Trailhead cafe, in the resort's administrative building, began serving daily breakfast and lunch May 2 and will add dinners beginning June 16. Cascada, in the beautiful Tuscan-style Clubhouse building, presents dinners Wednesdays through Sundays (every day beginning May 30). And the uber-elegant Chanterelle dining room, also in the Clubhouse, throws its doors open on Friday nights for reservation-only, prix-fixe dinners.

Dinner at Cascada

I loved my solo dinner at the club-like Cascada. Rich, bold, dark-wood decor accents the ocher-colored walls, and light jazz plays in the background. A patio extends off the cafe toward the Fazio course. Although the atmosphere — with several flat-screen televisions tuned to various sporting events — doesn't entirely lend itself to fine dining, my meal said otherwise.

True, my Caesar salad was ordinary. Fresh chopped romaine was tossed with a house Caesar dressing, topped with house-made Parmesan-drip croutons and shaved pecorino cheese. I missed the flavor of anchovy paste, an essential ingredient to any true Caesar.

But my disappointment disappeared with the delivery of my generous seafood entree. Five large seared diver scallops were presented on a bed of orzo, trimmed with fresh vegetables — thinly sliced zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, red peppers and fava beans — and dressed with microgreens. The entire dish was doused in a light smoked-tomato broth through which the flavors exploded.

The scallop entree was both well-conceived and well-executed. What's more, service at Cascada was excellent. My server was knowledgeable and attentive, and the wine steward was very helpful in assisting with my choice of an Elk Cove pinot gris to accompany the scallops.

In February, prior to the seasonal opening of the Trailhead, I enjoyed a casual lunch at Cascada. I had a beef carpaccio appetizer, wonderfully lean; a delicious wedge salad, made with a quarter-head of iceberg lettuce; and a hearty black-bean chili.

Light Trailhead meals

In contrast to my Cascada experiences, a recent lunch with a companion at the Trailhead didn't wow me.

The resort's most casual dining facility, the Trailhead plays on the theme of an old-time High Desert ranch, with light and dark wood decor, cowhide upholstery and framed historic photographs of fishing and camping on its walls. A telecast of a golf tournament played behind the bar on my visit.

My companion was satisfied with her $12 burger. Although the meat was cooked well past her medium-to-medium rare request, she said it was still juicy. It came on a sturdy, cornmeal-dusted bun with Swiss cheese, a big fried onion ring, lettuce, tomato and a tasty wedge of dill pickle.

As a side, instead of fries, she opted to try Pronghorn's signature smoked-cheddar macaroni and cheese. The subtle smokiness, she said, was a good complement to the creamy pasta dish.

But I paid $15 for a chicken-bacon-spinach salad that had very little bacon, and which was so modest in size as to leave me hungry. A light vinaigrette wilted the baby spinach leaves, which were topped with minimally seasoned, sliced chicken breast, roasted red peppers, slivered almonds and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Seeking to soothe my appetite, I added an appetizer of boneless chicken wings. To my surprise, the chunks of meat — I question whether they were, indeed, wings — came from the kitchen heavily breaded and cloaked in a sweet and peppery chili sauce. Despite a serving of ranch dressing and several raw carrot and cucumber sticks, I did not enjoy them at all.

When we had finished the meal, our server, heretofore efficient and friendly, revealed that he couldn't make after-meal cappuccinos. “That's the one with all the foam on it, right?” he queried. Instead, he produced a pair of espresso-free cafe au laits.

Prix-fixe at Chanterelle

Chanterelle, named for the exquisite wild mushroom, is the special occasion dining room at Pronghorn. The grand chamber has an elegant, medieval atmosphere, suitable for the resort's reservation-only signature dinners and wine dinners on alternative Friday nights.

Such wineries as Hess, Grieve Family, Erath, Sineann, Ken Wright and Adelsheim are scheduled to present meals at Chanterelle between now and September. So, too, is Va Piano Vineyards. I had the pleasure to attend a dinner last fall attended by owner Justin Wylie of the Walla Walla-based winery.

Last Friday, a special dinner featured the culinary skills of Korean-born chef Sunny Jin of Jory, the restaurant at the Allison Inn in Newberg. I was unable to attend, but I was able to peruse Jin's four-course menu. It featured nettle crepes with asparagus and morels, pan-seared king salmon, spring lamb with hazelnut gnocchi, and a goat-cheese panna cotta.

For a meal such as that one, the 20-minute (16-mile) drive from Bend to Pronghorn — past the Bend municipal airport and out Powell Butte Highway — seems like nothing.

SMALL BITES

Planker Sandwiches has replaced the Crepe Place in downtown Bend. While the new store still serves a few varieties of crepes, both savory and sweet, its specialties are sandwiches (such as the Cuban-style pork belly) and paninis (including the vegetarian chickpea), priced from $5 to $9. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. 824 N.W. Wall St., Bend; www.plankersandwiches .com or 541-317-5717.

The annual Sagebrush Classic has announced its 2011 chef attendees, and the list is heavy on returnees. Newcomers to the event are Suvir Saran of New York, along with Portland's Matt Lightner of Castagna and Scott Shampine of Graffiti Street Food. Returning from 2010 are Roberto Donna of Washington, D.C.; Tom Fleming of Dallas; John Finger, Terry Sawyer and Ken Frank of Napa, Calif.; Mark Kiffin of Santa Fe, N.M.; Jackie Lau of Honolulu; Billy Marinelli of Bangkok; Scott Neuman of Portland; Michael Smith of Kansas City, Mo.; Greg and Mary Sonnier of New Orleans; and Nigel Viet of Ho Chi Minh City. Returning after an absence is Jennifer Jasinski of Denver. Participating Bend chefs are Bill Ballard of Broken Top Resort, Matt Neltner of the Deschutes Brewery and Gavin McMichael of Bourbon Street Sea&Soul Food. The benefit Sagebrush Feast will be held July 16 at Broken Top. Tickets, priced at $200, may be purchased at www.sagebrush.org or by calling 541-388-0771.

RECENT REVIEWS

Boken (A): With an exotic, pub-style atmosphere that is at once Asian and hip, this breezeway café adds a new dimension to dining in downtown Bend. The adventurous menu is one of small plates, from green papaya salad to skewered baby octopus. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 852 N.W. Brooks St., Bend; www.bokenbend.com or 541-706-9091.

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