Rating Elevation at Cascade Culinary Institute

Food: () Student menu is well-considered and executed as it would be at any fine-dining restaurant.

Service: () Personable and professional, with orders hastily taken and delivered and attention given to special requests.

Atmosphere: () Pleasant but nondescript; the spacious dining hall was designed for learning and lacks particular ambiance.

More Info

Location: 2555 NW Campus Village Way, Bend

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, dinner 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Friday through June 9. Summer term, lunch only, July 13 to Aug. 24. Fall term, lunch and dinner, Oct. 11 to Dec. 9.

Cuisine: Pacific Northwest

Price range: Lunch $5 to $8; dinner appetizers $6 to $9, entrees $15 to $24

Credit cards: Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: No

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Choices include an artichoke-and-asparagus risotto

Alcoholic beverages: Wine and beer

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: Essential

Contact: elevationbend.com, 541-318-3780 or 541-318-3735 (after 5 p.m)

There’s never a need to be timid about dining at Elevation, the restaurant operated by and for the Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College.

Prepared and served by students who soon may be working at restaurants up and down the West Coast, the food is every bit as good here as at scores of profit-generating Bend-area establishments — or, in many cases, better.

Over the years, each time I’ve dined here, I’ve been delighted with the quality of the meal as well as the service. At first, that may have been a pleasant surprise. Now, I’ve come to expect it.

I never forget, though, that I’m entering a classroom situation. The Jungers Culinary Center, which opened in 2011, wasn’t designed to be a restaurant. Its broad lobby, opening on its north side into a spacious dining hall set with 13 tables, could well serve as a conference facility. There’s been no particular attempt to enhance the atmosphere.

But when two of us arrived for a recent dinner, we were warmly greeted by a supervisor who took our coats and led us to our seats, even pulling out a chair to seat my companion. It was a gesture rarely seen in local restaurants.

Outstanding dinner

Our meal began with a basket of house-baked brioche rolls, presented warm with butter. Our attentive server was prompt in taking our drink order, although we asked her to wait until we had chosen our meal before we selected a matching wine. Throughout the dinner, she provided a professional and personable touch at our table and at others nearby, double-checking that we were pleased with our food and quickly responding to special requests.

We started our dinner with salads. My companion declared hers “one of my favorite wedges I’ve ever had.” Two quarter heads of iceberg lettuce were served with chunks of applewood-smoked candied bacon, marinated cherry tomatoes and a peppery dressing of Rogue Creamery blue cheese minus crumbles, as if it had been blended.

My duck confit salad offered juicy bites of breast meat served upon mixed greens and frisee, topped with a poached and peppered duck egg and dressed with thyme vinaigrette. Dried cranberries and crunchy fried chickpeas added flavor and texture.

Before our entrees, we shared a bowl of Elevation’s soup du jour. This was a delicious African peanut soup, combining the nut meats with chopped yams, onion and deep-fried potato skin. It was sprinkled with cilantro and seasoned with just enough sweet chili oil to give it a little extra zing.

For her main course, my friend had a thick Pacific Northwest rib-eye chop. Rubbed with locally produced spices, it was perfectly cooked — medium-rare, as she likes it — and served with rosemary-horseradish whipped cream. Fingerling potatoes, fried rather than roasted, and wilted collard greens, bitter despite having been sauteed with garlic, were somewhat disappointing as accompaniments.

My halibut entree was superb. Pan-seared with a modest amount of fresh garlic, a generous serving of fish was presented upon a finely diced sweet-potato hash with chipotle-roasted hazelnuts and sauteed green beans. A lemon beurre blanc sauce was almost invisible, save for a few shallots, but its flavor was unmistakable.

Learning experience

Lunch is also served at Elevation, although during spring term it’s offered only on Thursdays. And its menu (soup, salad, tacos, steak frites and a muffuletta sandwich) is at a more elementary level than the dinner experience.

“Dinner is a bit more upscale,” acknowledged Thor Erickson, Cascade Culinary Institute department chair. “Lunch is definitely less of a production.”

“At Elevation, we are training students to work in the industry,” he said. “The lunch class is the students’ first foray into line cooking. For a lot of them, who have not worked in food-service situations before, it’s taking the mechanics of cooking learned in their foundation courses and putting the heat on.”

Dinner menus are designed by upper-level “Capstone” students with the assistance of Mike Cooper, the course facilitator, and chef de cuisine Ryan Jones, himself a Cascade Culinary graduate. “Every term, we are opening a restaurant,” Erickson said. “The first couple weeks of the term are research and development. Students start to build a menu with a list of seasonal ingredients. They course it out and learn preparations that are close to what they might do in any number of restaurants.”

Erickson also emphasized the importance of learning how to serve customers. “It’s important for culinary students to know what that front-of-the-house experience is like,” he said. “It’s all about communication: the way the chefs in the kitchen communicate to the servers, and how the servers communicate to the guests. It creates a respect for all the positions in a food-service situation. It matters.”

Spring term ends June 15, with final dinner service June 9. Before then, however, the school will welcome 25 Danish students from a culinary program in Silkeborg, Denmark, whose week in Bend will culminate in a six-course Nordic dinner May 26. Tickets are priced at $150, including wine pairings. Proceeds will help fund a June visit to Denmark for Oregon students.

“Cooks are in demand right now,” Erickson said. “We have employers lined up. People just can’t get enough cooks.”

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com.

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