RED MARTINI KITCHEN & COCKTAILS

Food: () Continental cuisine is superb; chef displays strong knowledge of regional styles.

Service: () Skilled wait staff offers professional acumen at all turns of dining experience.

Atmosphere: () Ambiance reflects Art Deco appeal of 1928 New Redmond Hotel building.

More Info

Location: 509 SW Sixth St., Redmond

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

Cuisine: Continental

Price range: Happy hour (4 to 6 p.m.) $5 to $14; starters $7 to $19, salads and soups $8 to $11, entrees $17 to $30

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: On request; lobster mac and cheese is popular.

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: on request; also salads and goat-cheese “cigars”

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: Recommended

Contact: redmartiniandwinebar.com, 541-504-6424

For more area restaurant reviews, visit bendbulletin.com/restaurants

The departure of an executive chef can be traumatic for a fine dining restaurant. When it happens twice in three months, a crisis is brewing.

That’s what happened in 2018 at Red Martini Kitchen & Cocktails, one of a small handful of elite restaurants in downtown Redmond.

When the saucepan stopped bubbling and the steam cleared, the elegant room on the ground floor of the 90-year-old New Redmond Hotel was as good as it had ever been, maybe better. And owner Suzanne Tarbet was in the kitchen.

Tarbet is used to learning on the job. That skill has carried the San Diego native through careers in politics (as a mayoral aide in Portland in the mid-1990s) and broadcasting (as promotions director and on-air talent for a radio group). “In every position I’ve had in my life, I’ve jumped in and done it with no experience,” she said.

Tarbet opened Red Martini in December 2013 with Jerry Phaisavath as consulting chef and “by far, the driving force,” she said. But last July, the chef had to depart suddenly to deal with a family emergency in his native Laos. Almost immediately, Tarbet hired another chef, one with an impressive resume and a French culinary background.

“I gave him a blank slate,” she said. The new chef installed his own menu but vanished only a few weeks later, surreptitiously removing his knives before emailing Tarbet that he had ‘received a better offer.’ My confidence was shot,” Tarbet said.

She closed Red Martini for several weeks to transition back to “my own brand,” as she put it. “I equate running a restaurant to steering a ship,” Tarbet said. “Your direction is contingent on the current or the wind. Sometimes, you just have to take the helm and get things turned around. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had — long hours, a lot of sacrifices and on-the-job training.”

She decided to don the mantle of executive chef. Over the years, Phaisavath had taught her his cooking style, as well as other details like plating and infusions.

“I have had to remind myself not to sweat it, that I am cooking for friends,” she said. “I rely on the front-of-house staff, on the bartender and servers, to orchestrate the flow. We work together as a team to assure the customer is having the best experience possible.”

Cocktails and appetizers

It’s a testament to Tarbet’s dedication that Red Martini has not only survived but thrived. The continental-style cuisine is superb and moderately priced; as chef, Tarbet displays a mastery of regional and seasonal styles. The skilled wait and bar staff indeed display professional acumen at all turns of the dining experience.

And the ambiance, which reflects the Art Deco appeal of the 1928 hotel building, promotes a sense of Prohibition-era speakeasies with red drapes, hanging lamps and a classic film silently playing on one wall of the dining room.

My dining companion and I began a recent dinner at Red Martini with signature cocktails. “The Red” ($12) is a vodka martini mixed with lime juice, simple syrup and Prosecco, finished with a mint sprig and fresh raspberries. It was delicious, although I would have liked it better without the bubbly. My friend had a Pomegranate Martini ($10) with vodka, Cointreau, fresh pomegranate and lemon juice.

We sampled three appetizers, including “goat cheese cigars” ($12) that bore a vague resemblance to Greek spanikopita. Local chèvre, blended with caramelized onions and herbs, was wrapped in filo dough, baked and sprinkled with fresh thyme. It came with two sides: My companion preferred the thick fig jam, while I loved a bourbon maple syrup served in a shot glass for dipping.

Although the menu describes gougères ($8) as “French cheesy cream puffs,” there is nothing creamy about them. As rich as butter but nearly light as air, these baked cheese puffs — topped with sprinkles of coarse salt and nutmeg — seemed to melt in our mouths.

The best thing about the pomme frites ($7), or French fries, served in a cone with a drizzle of white truffle oil and a sprinkle of rosemary, was the accompaniment of house-made, smoky tomato sauce.

Soup, salad, entrees

Gratinée ($11) — baked French onion soup — was excellent and barely salty, even though the taste could have been enhanced with a more generous splash of cooking sherry. Per tradition, crostini and Gruyère cheese were floated on top.

I’m not a huge fan of wedge salads, but the classic wedge ($11) served here was excellent. A crispy head of fresh, chilled iceberg lettuce was quartered; topped with an Oregon bleu cheese dressing and cheese crumbles; and finished with crispy bacon bits, sliced red onions and halved cherry tomatoes.

My companion and I went surf-and-turf on entrees. I chose the hooved meal: beef tenderloin medallions ($30). Topped with a light and creamy Gorgonzola cheese sauce, and perfectly cooked medium-rare per my order, the meat was served with parsley-sprinkled red potatoes and thinly sliced, sauteed carrots.

While the beef was terrific, my friend hit the culinary jackpot with trout meunière ($26). The definitive take on this recipe calls for the fish to be cooked in lightly browned butter. Tarbet used beurre blanc, an emulsified butter sauce, along with minced celery, garlic cloves and pistachios; she finished the trout with a lemon slice and a sprinkle of parsley. We loved the creative approach. Mashed potatoes and green beans accompanied.

Dessert was a custardy crème brûlée ($8) and a slice of chocolate decadence cake ($9), topped with raspberry coulis and vanilla-bean ice cream. But by this time, we had no room for sweets.

Tarbet, as if she doesn’t have enough on her plate, plans an even busier 2019. With renovation of the three-story New Redmond Hotel underway, she has taken charge of developing a rooftop bar projected to open at the end of May, serving small bites with cocktails.

When the 46-room boutique hotel reopens later in the summer, she also will manage a ground-floor provisions market offering grab-and-go meals and smoothies.

Although she’ll remain head chef, she will count upon a sous chef to maintain the Red Martini kitchen at a high level. “I need to have a life and bandwidth,” she said with a smile.

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

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