Sometimes it’s not a particular restaurant that lures me back for a return visit, but a specific taste experience that I want to repeat.
With that in mind, these are some of my most unforgettable flavor memories when I go out to dine in Bend. A dozen of them are downtown, another dozen outside of Bend’s downtown area.
The list doesn’t include neighboring communities, nor does it offer bites at bakeries or cafes that specialize in breakfasts and lunches. Those might provide material for a future column.
A downtown dozen
Barrio: At Central Oregon’s finest Spanish-style tapas restaurant, chef Steven Draheim makes paella to leave you yearning for Barcelona. You won’t find rabbit or land snails, but the rice-based casserole has plenty of chicken, chorizo sausage and vegetables. Paella ($16-$30) is also offered in variations with seafood and veggies only.
Brickhouse: Brickhouse specializes in both steaks and grilled seafood, so its filet Oscar ($39) is a double pleasure. A 10-ounce cut of beef tenderloin cooked to order, topped with fresh Dungeness crab meat, served with asparagus and Béarnaise sauce, the Oscar is simply delicious. Owner Jeff Porad is a perfectionist when it comes to the quality of steaks.
Dojo: The sushi and robata grills are delicious at this Asian bistro on Brooks Alley, but the shared plates and dim sum are best of all. I can make a filling meal out of steamed dumplings ($9), filled with pork, ginger, cabbage and scallions, especially when I accompany it with a Thai-style green papaya salad ($8).
Drake: I’m not addicted to leafy kale, like some people I know, but the way it’s grilled at Drake and served as a salad has me hooked. John Gurnee, the chef at this upscale diner, has given grilled kale ($11) a new look with shaved apples and radishes and a green goddess dressing.
5 Fusion & Sushi Bar: Chef Joe Kim Jr. may be Oregon’s most creative chef outside of Portland, as his 2014 James Beard Foundation acclaim might indicate. My dining companion and I each have our menu favorites: Whenever it’s available, I love the oolong tea-glazed sea bass ($25); she craves the lobster-and-shrimp curry ($21).
Jackalope Grill: Chef-owner Tim Garling is at his best when he is working with wild game. Elk and pheasant may occasionally find their way to the daily special list, but a menu mainstay is the oven-roasted bacon-wrapped quail ($25), served with orzo, red currants, toasted pine nuts, flamed grapes and fresh oregano.
Joolz: I don’t know why forbidden black rice ($16) carries that name. I’m just glad it hasn’t been banned from the menu at Joolz, Lebanese-American chef Ramsey Hamdan’s gourmet downtown hideaway. It’s served with Moroccan barbecued chicken and tabbouleh (parsley) salad. Finish with a wedge of Hamdan’s melt-in-your-mouth date cake.
900 Wall: Chef Cliff Eslinger is a master of meats. He butchers and smokes the stock himself, and for a while even raised the animals. So it comes as no surprise that his cured meat and charcuterie plate ($19) is the best in town. Dive into chicken-liver pâté, country pork pâté and mortadella. My companion loves the beef tenderloin tartare ($14).
Pine Tavern: Ever since restaurateur Bill McCormick assumed ownership of this venerable (founded in 1936) establishment last year, it has embarked on a menu of new directions with old favorites. I still come for the classic, 10-ounce, Pine Tavern prime rib ($32.95), served with fresh vegetables, a baked potato and oh, that creamy horseradish.
10 Below: Bend’s best hotel dining experience has been enhanced since chef Ingrid Rohrer-Downer joined the team last year. Seafood and meat dishes are excellent, but my favorite is the spicy cauliflower cutlet ($17), a vegetarian entrée grilled in an Indian-style pakora batter with tamarind and yogurt sauce. It’s pretty amazing.
Wild Rose: It doesn’t appear on the daily menu, but the kabocha curry ($11) hasn’t been removed from the blackboard menu since the day this Northern Thai restaurant opened more than a year ago. The special ingredient is pumpkin, and it’s stirred with a variety of fresh vegetables into a red curry paste with coconut milk. Fantastic.
Zydeco: There are so many great dishes here, among them the filet au poivre, the duck breast and the blackened red fish. But every one of them is better preceded by an appetizer of barbecued shrimp on Southern grit cake ($13). The flavors, enhanced by the restaurant’s house-made shrimp base, is superb. For dessert, I love the carrot cake.
All around town
Ariana: Husband-and-wife chefs Ariana and Andrès Fernandez bring Latin flair to the Mediterranean kitchen of this romantic restaurant. I love the roasted duck ($27), prepared in a North African style with butternut squash and crispy Brussels sprouts. And if you’ve never sampled bone marrow ($13), try it here with a parsley-and-shallot salad.
Baltazar’s: Baltazar Chávez, son of a Mazatlán fisherman, gives everything a Mexican twist at this fine seafood restaurant. My favorite is a mixed ceviche ($18) of shrimp and octopus, marinated in lime juice, blended with pico de gallo and served on crispy tostada circles with avocado slices.
Cabin 22: The Crab Puff Wasabi Toss ($13) is a great salad. Chopped red-leaf and romaine lettuces are blended with bacon, green and red onions, red bell peppers and sesame seeds, then lightly dressed with wasabi vinaigrette and topped with fried crab puffs. Their cream cheese-and-crab blend is not overwhelmed by thick wonton batter.
Greg’s Grill: Unless you’re allergic to crustaceans, there’s nothing better than the crispy coconut prawns ($12.95 appetizer, $18.95 entrée) at this riverside palace in the Old Mill District. Perfectly battered, they are topped with grilled pineapple salsa, drizzled with a sweet chili-honey sauce and served in Basmati rice.
Hola! Serving distinctive Peruvian cuisine along with gourmet Mexican food, these cafes are the place to get your south-of-the-border fix. I head to the east-side location for Chancho a lo Sancho ($18), chunks of pork braised in Coca-Cola, of all things, doused in a garlicky Peruvian sofrito sauce and served on rice with yams, onions and tomatoes.
Jacksons’s Corner: Both near downtown and at the expanded east-side Jackson’s, casual Italian-style selections dominate the menu. I love the vegetarian mushroom pancetta ($16), a fettuccine pasta plate that features crimini or other seasonal fungi, chunky bacon-like pancetta, garlic, shallots, cream and Romano cheese.
Kanpai: Arguably Bend’s best sushi bar, Kanpai (Japanese for “Cheers!”) offers the ultimate small bite in its Dynamite ($11). Fish and shellfish, often a green-lip mussel, are broiled with vegetables in a scallop shell and served with avocado, radish sprouts, tobiko (flying-fish roe), spicy aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and ponzu sauce. It’s truly a mouthful.
The Original Kayo’s: Owner-chef Kayo Oakley is old-school, but he’s not afraid to give new depth to classic recipes. Such is the case with his rack of lamb ($34 full, $24 half), when it’s available. The meat is lightly coated with stone-ground mustard, baked medium rare and served with a delicious huckleberry mint sauce.
Pho Viet & Café: I come here for hearty bowls of pho (pronounced “fuh”), a traditional Vietnamese soup slow-cooked with beef bones, onions and spices for 10 hours or longer. My favorite version is Pho Do Dac Biêt ($9.95), combining cuts of steak, brisket, meatballs and tendon, served with bean sprouts, basil, mint, lime and jalapeño peppers.
The Row at Tetherow: The Scottish-style pub at this west-side golf club offers a shepherds’ pie ($16) that chef Zach Hoffman makes not with ground lamb or beef, but with tender cubes of braised elk. The meat is baked with diced vegetables and herbs in au-jus sauce and topped with a crust of mashed Yukon potatoes.
Spork: Chef Jeff Hunt is a student of international cuisines, and his menu ranges from Mexican to Korean, from Thai to Indian and even Cuban. I love his Thai beef salad ($10), a mix of greens with flank steak marinated in tamarind, tossed with toasted coconut, fried shallot and other ingredients, and finished with nam jim (chili and lime juice) dressing.
Trattoria Sbandati: In Central Oregon’s only authentically Italian restaurant, chef-owner Juri Sbandati, a native of Florence, Italy, makes every dish from scratch: even his pastas are hand-made. Try the pappardelle alla Chiantigiana ($18), a flat, wide Tuscan pasta with a traditional Chianti wine sauce of tomato, sausage and fennel.
— Reporter: janderson@ bendbulletin.com