Review: Red Martini

Redmond gets speakeasy style with this classy bistro

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Published Mar 28, 2014 at 01:12AM

Red Martini Wine Bar & Grill

Location: 509 S.W. Sixth St., Redmond

Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

Price range: Starters $7 to $14, salads $7 to $12, small plates $9 to $17

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: On request

Vegetarian menu: Options include wild mushroom au gratin, pastas and salads

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Possible seasonal sidewalk seating

Reservations: Recommended

Contact: www.redmartiniand winebar.com or 541-504-6424

Scorecard

OVERALL: A

Food: A. Creative, gourmet American dishes prepared with French culinary influence.

Service: A. Friendly, knowledgeable and professionally attentive.

Atmosphere: A. Sleek and stylish retro ambience, with red trim and period music.

Value: A. Prices are excellent, with decent portions of steak at $17 and duck breast just $12.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when the gentle thunder of Model Ts traveling down Redmond’s Sixth Street were a reminder of the indulgences of the Roaring ’20s.

The Prohibition era was in full swing, but bootleggers found outlets for their illegal hooch even in Central Oregon. Underground establishments known as speakeasies may not have flourished as they did in major cities, but those who wanted to tipple had little difficulty finding places to imbibe.

It was during this time that the thriving Hotel Redmond burned to the ground. Quickly rebuilt in 1928 as the three-story, 64-room New Redmond Hotel, the red-brick building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Owner Billy Wilson was known to call local businessmen to lunch with a cowbell. He and his wife, Frances (Fanny), who had been a dancer during the Alaskan Gold Rush, ran the property until her death in 1952. Some say she still keeps a ghostly hand in the operation of businesses on its ground floor today.

One of those is the new Red Martini Wine Bar & Grill, which trades upon the building’s history with a retro-style, speakeasy ambience.

Seeing red

The Red Martini Wine Bar & Grill is the best thing to happen to the downtown Redmond dining scene in many years.

Not since 2008 and 2009, when Brickhouse and Diego’s established themselves on opposite sides of Sixth Street, have I been so excited by a new restaurant in Bend’s neighbor to the north. Owner Suzanne Tarbet’s design is sleek and stylish; service is thoughtful and attentive; and the menu executed by chef Robert Helwig is at once creative and comforting.

Red Martini opened just before Christmas 2013. While it doesn’t quite harken to Prohibition — I sipped a raspberry-mint martini called “The Red” at a 12-seat, crimson-colored bar — it does take me back 50 years. Draperies and trim are similarly scarlet, and an art fixture with an olive-adorned martini hangs on the back wall. On some evenings, a keyboardist performs period tunes; on other occasions, the sound system plays such crooners as Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf and Bobby Darin.

Service is superb, whether at the bar or at one of the booths and tables spaced in somewhat eclectic fashion around the small room. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and professional, taking orders quickly and responding rapidly to diners’ requests.

Delicious food

Despite the “wine bar” name — and there is an excellent selection of vintage varietals — Red Martini is much more than drinks and atmosphere. I can imagine dropping by for a beverage but returning time and again for the food.

The menu was developed by chef Helwig, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and previously of the House on Metolius in Camp Sherman, in consultation with Jerry Phaisavath, former owner of Chloe (in Redmond and Sisters). Phaisavath is now executive chef at a lodge in Seward, Alaska.

In two recent visits to Red Martini with my regular dining companion, I’ve found the food to be invariably delicious.

Phaisavath’s influence is clear in the Dungeness crab cakes, a seafood blend (with almost no filler) of crab with scallops, snapper and fresh herbs. Served with tomato jam and spicy aioli, it is presented on a bed of apple-and-carrot slaw with dried cranberries.

The soup du jour, on at least one occasion, was peppery sweet-corn chowder, its kernels taken straight off the cob. Bacon, celery and chives were part of the savory potage, which was presented with slices of French baguette.

An artisan green bounty salad featured a mix of field greens with julienned apples and carrots, sweet red and yellow peppers, golden raisins, candied walnuts and thinly sliced Asiago cheese. The ingredients were tossed with apple-cider vinaigrette that lent a light freshness.

The marinated mozzarella cheese and candied walnut salad — served atop thinly sliced tomatoes — was an in-house version of the classic Italian caprese. Although I would prefer it with more thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes, I still found it delicious. Squares of cheese were tossed with nuts and crunchy celery, red onions and fresh herbs in rosemary balsamic vinaigrette. The only caprese ingredient missing was fresh basil.

Generous plates

The ample size of the tapas-style “small plates” makes them as good as entrees.

My favorite is the duck. Sliced Muscovy duck breast is presented atop a chive blini, a small pancake, and topped with fig compote and braised fennel. Rosemary balsamic syrup and pureed fennel are drizzled around its edges, making this dish look as good as it tasted.

Prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin, cooked medium and juicy, was served with a sweet-potato hash that blended bacon, onions and herbs. It was finished with a lavender-pomegranate glaze.

Wild mushroom au gratin offered a mix of three fungi — shiitake, chanterelle and oyster — with three cheeses, Asiago, Gruyere and mozzarella. They were baked together with brioche bread and served with crispy prosciutto bacon and a coulis of roasted pimentos. This would be an outstanding vegetarian meal in itself.

Linguini carbonara presented delicate pasta noodles, cooked al dente, in a creamy white-wine sauce with sweet peas and pancetta, another Italian bacon. Topped with Asiago, it was savory and delicious.

Tempted by desserts on both visits, we succumbed to the roasted pear creme brulee. A caramel-like half pear topped a silky and lemony pot de creme of the classic French egg custard. I loved it, just as I love everything about Red Martini.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com