Anthony’s at the Old Mill has established a strong reputation as a premier seafood house since it opened six years ago. Spacious and popular, with wonderful picture-window views upon the Deschutes River and the Cascade Mountains beyond, it draws a steady stream of faithful clientele.
Yet I am not a huge fan of Anthony’s. While the kitchen staff knows how to grill fish and make a good chowder, I find the preparations unimaginative, the menu overpriced and the ambience institutional, for lack of a better word.
Owned by the Seattle-based Anthony’s Restaurants group, the Bend eatery is the only one of 19 establishments outside the state of Washington. Sixteen of them are on Puget Sound or adjoining waterways, where Anthony’s has a solid reputation as a purveyor of Northwest seafood.
The firm has its own seafood division, which supplies each of its restaurants with fresh fish purchased directly from commercial fishermen in southeastern Alaska and elsewhere, often including Hawaii. Shipments arrive in Bend four times a week from Seattle, by air and refrigerated truck.
Other Central Oregon restaurants also have seafood provided several times a week, yet their prices are markedly less than Anthony’s. I surveyed a half-dozen upscale restaurants in downtown Bend last week and found their entree prices for wild salmon to run consistently between $21 and $26.
At Anthony’s, a dinner of fresh wild chinook salmon is $34.95. (Frozen coho salmon is priced at $24.95 as an entree.)
“In order for us to assure that we’re selling the highest quality fish, that’s what we have to pay,” explained General Manager Ross Alexander. “Wild king salmon is one of our signature items, and the cost of salmon has risen dramatically. We use wild-caught only. We don’t use any farm-raised salmon whatsoever.”
Anthony’s does shine when it comes to service. On both of my recent visits, my servers have been excellent — prompt, friendly, responsive to any request. This is not always easy in a restaurant that seats about 180 people indoors (100 of them in the main dining room) and dozens more outside in warm weather. Clearly, the company has a good service-staff training program.
But this is not a place for a romantic meal. The atmosphere lacks any degree of intimacy, and I have not seen a single table with a setting for two. Every one of the heavy pine-wood tables seats four to six; the mood is such that it invites family and business gatherings. A seafood-friendly theme prevails in the motifs of leaping salmon in the carpeting, track lighting hidden in tiny jellyfish, trolling rods and classic fishing lures acting as room dividers.
Dinner for two
When my companion and I arrived for dinner one night, we were promptly seated and provided with ice water and bread: a half-loaf of sourdough, chopped into quarters and served with a ramekin of butter.
We started with a half-dozen briny Snow Creek oysters, on the half shell. They were served with a choice of two dips, one a classic cocktail sauce, the other a more interesting champagne-and-shallot vinaigrette.
Entrees include a choice of salad or soup. My friend began with a fresh seasonal salad of baby spinach, tossed with huckleberries, halved hazelnuts and blue-cheese crumbles. It was dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.
Likewise, I loved my clam chowder, a signature dish of the Anthony’s group. Finely chopped potatoes, bacon and a bit of celery complemented the clam-rich soup, prepared in a cream base. It was seasoned with thyme and fresh parsley and served with a packet of oyster crackers.
As a main course, I opted for fresh Alaskan ling cod. The fish was cooked perfectly, roasted on an alder plank with a bit of basil. I think I would have liked the buttery beurre blanc sauce better had it not carried a smoky garlic flavor.
I absolutely did not care for the accompaniments. A serving of broccoli was unseasoned and overcooked. A generous amount of skin-on potatoes mashed with garlic were presented in an unappetizing baked potato-shaped mound.
My companion had a surf-and-turf special, a steak-and-lobster entree priced at the bargain price of $19.95. A 6-ounce slice of top sirloin, grilled rare (as per her order), was presented along with a half of a roasted lobster tail and dipping butter. The meal was served with broccoli and roasted halved baby potatoes.
“There’s no finesse to the preparation,” she complained. “The flavors lack any sort of subtlety in seasoning. And my lobster is kind of chewy.”
Lunch for two
We returned a few days later for lunch and began with an order of coconut prawns. Five of the jumbo shrimp (why are odd numbers served to couples?) were skewered, dipped in a shredded-coconut batter and quickly deep-fried. As there was no heavy breading in the mix, these were pleasantly light and tasty.
But the kitchen could improve the presentation; the prawns were stacked tepee-style upon a few leaves of arugula with a suggestion of mango-pineapple-kiwi salsa, and topped with a handful of tasteless shredded beet.
My friend was sorely disappointed in her fish tacos, made with Hawaiian mahi mahi. Grilled without noticeable seasoning, the mahi was presented in two starchy white-flour tortillas with scoops of sloppy cole slaw; the cabbage was overwhelmed by mayonnaise and vinegar.
The dish was served with a salsa that appeared to be nothing more than stewed tomatoes with bits of onion and peppers. And the french fries were of similar quality to those sold at many fast-food restaurants.
I was much happier with my luncheon course, a Northwest cioppino. The Italian-style seafood stew coupled fish and shellfish — wild coho salmon, seared ling cod, prawns, mussels and Manila clams — with onions and tomatoes, simmered in a savory tomato broth seasoned with thyme and parsley.
The accompanying Caesar salad wasn’t what I consider a Caesar; rather, it was a simple romaine salad. Fresh, chopped lettuce leaves were tossed in a light creamy dressing, sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese and served with large, soft, house-made croutons. There was no flavor of anchovy paste (surprising, perhaps, for a seafood restaurant), no hint of egg or lemon juice. It wasn’t a bad salad, but I found it to be dry and requested extra dressing.
Noted local pastry chef Michele Morris has announced a catering venture called Sweets with Michele , in which she offers interactive cooking and baking instruction. Morris specializes in wine-and-chocolate pairing parties for holiday events and “girls nights out.” Formerly pastry chef for The Blacksmith and Fireside red, Morris is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu school in Las Vegas and is now an instructor at Bend’s Cascade Culinary Institute. 541-977-9096, www .sweetswithmichele.com.
TLC Deli&Catering (B): Although this off-the-beaten-track enterprise gets most of its business from catering, the four-table cafe serves made-from-scratch breakfast and lunch plates. The homemade salads and soups are especially good. Service and decor are basic. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 1605 N.E. Lytle St., Bend; 541-382-1646.
Black Horse Saloon (B+): This quirky northeast Bend tavern may have a soft spot for motorcycle riders in ambience and decor, but despite loud music, it’s a docile place. The kitchen turns out solid, fresh, no-frills fare, and service is fast and friendly. Open 11 a.m. to close Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to close Saturday and Sunday. 20565 Brinson Blvd. (at Boyd Acres Avenue), Bend; 541-382-4270, www.blackhorsesaloon.com.
Mazatlan Family Mexican Restaurants (C+): Portions are good and prices moderate, but food and service are mediocre at both the Bend and west Redmond restaurants. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 61419 S. Third St., Bend (541-385-8772); 1302 S. U.S. Highway 97, Redmond (541-923-7426); 905 S.W. Rimrock Way, Suite 202, Redmond (541-548-1595); 887 N. Main St., Prineville (541-447-7437); 675 N.W. U.S. Highway 26, Madras (541-475-6873); www.mazatlancentralor.com.
Bourbon Street Sea & Soul Food (A-): Hearty, savory New Orleans-style meals — including jambalaya, crawfish etouffee and spicy gumbos — are true to the Southern palate. Servers “let the good times roll,” in an authentically Bayou ambience. The moderate price point makes this a good value. Open 8 a.m. to midnight every day. 5 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-323-2833, www.bourbonstreetbend.com.