Drake looks the same as it did before the COVID-19 lockdowns. But thanks to Executive Chef John Gurnee’s inspiration, the menu has changed, upping the quality of ingredients and recipes to bring diners an exceptional experience. Gurnee came to Bend from Northern California, where he attended culinary school in San Francisco, then worked for a restaurant group. He started at a casual café working for a disciple of the famed Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. (Waters is said to have created the farm-to-table California-style of cooking.)

In 2010, Gurnee went on to work at Chef Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. There, he learned a lot about presentation and juxtaposing ingredients. Gurnee’s experience is evident in Drake’s new menu.

As more people from urban centers settle in Bend, there is a call for restaurants geared toward sophisticated palates. These foodies are accustomed to nicer restaurants and subtle recipes. The new menu at Drake fills the bill with exciting recipes and a commitment to serving the highest-quality local ingredients.

Our dinner began with a Frisee Lardon salad. Curly endive is the base of this salad with bacon “lardons.” While lardons are typically cut into fat matchsticks, these meaty pieces of pork are chunkier but still give that crisp, salty, smokyy applewood flavor. Atop the salad is a crispy egg that was soft boiled for 7 minutes, then breaded and fried. The greens are tossed in a mustard vinaigrette with fine herbs that pull the dish together. The mustard works both with the bacon and the egg. It’s in the ideal proportion to add a hint of tang without becoming the prominent flavor. Thinly sliced black truffles from Burgundy, France are sparingly added. Their taste was very subtle, almost imperceptible. Gurnee mentioned he had also made this salad with fine caviar.

These high-end ingredients are responsible for the salad’s $35 price tag. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to stop eating it. The balance of the ingredients was perfection.

The soup special was Creamy Sunchoke, Mushroom, and Hazelnut. Also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, the sunchoke has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not an artichoke. The hazelnuts amplify this tuber’s nutty flavor, as both add dimension to the creamy mushroom soup. A drizzle of parsley oil over the top garnishes the soup and adds a bit of salt. Again, the marriage of ingredients was satisfying, with no flavor hijacking my attention. Note that menu items with mushrooms will be discontinued during Winter.

I picked the Crab Mac and Cheese as my “Main Ingredient” (entree). A massive pile of crab meat sat atop rigatoni pasta. The pasta was coated in a thick béchamel sauce mixed with fruity taleggio and nutty gruyere cheeses. Herbed breadcrumbs added texture and another flavor to reduce the creamy lusciousness. When I took a bite that had a lot of cheese and crab, it was very rich. Instead, I portioned out the amount of cheese and crab on my fork, and it was a very satisfying, indulgent dish. It would be perfect after a cold day skiing.

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The Roasted Beet “Prime Rib” was not your typical vegetarian dish. My friend declared tat she didn’t remotely miss having meat, as “the flavors were all there.” Her perception of meat was due to how the meal was seasoned. Big, roasted beets are coated in spices and herbs typically used on prime rib, then quickly roasted again to create a crusty exterior. Black garlic braised greens also added the salty flavors often found in meat dishes. Two big servings of whipped goat cheese flanked the beets. This was a mild goat cheese with a slightly sour creaminess to balance the other robust spices. Matchstick cut Chioggia beets (aka “candy stripe beets”) balanced on top. Freshly grated horseradish subtly added more of that prime rib feel. Again, all of the flavors worked together in harmony.

We ended the meal with Gooey Pistachio Cake and French press decaf coffee. I was thrilled to have a tasty brew of decaf coffee. The “cake” is served in an individual cast-iron skillet (big enough for two people). This lightly nutty, chewy dessert is made from a mix of cookie dough and cake batter. The crispy top has a scoop of ice cream with more chopped pistachios. It’s just the right level of sweet, chewy, and nutty.

Another friend and I returned for the weekend brunch. As usual, I wanted to try a sweet and a savory breakfast dish. Our sweet dish was the Krunchberry waffle. A regular-sized waffle is topped with vanilla Chantilly cream, then sprinkled with Krunchberries (yes, ground pieces of Cap’n Crunch cereal). They added color and texture. The vanilla cream was sweet and cool against the Marionberry syrup. Fresh strawberries and raspberries brought it all to life. It never felt heavy or too sweet.

We chose the Fennel Sausage breakfast sandwich as our savory dish. The one-inch thick, chargrilled sausage patty made my taste buds happy. I couldn’t stop eating it. The fennel in the sausage was more an overtone when mixed with many other herbs. Gurnee credits his sous chefs, Brad Fox and Cody Gray, for this dish. My compliments to the chefs. The sausage was piled with an egg and peppery arugula. A swipe of chipotle aioli gave a little bite to offset the sausage. Again, the combination was a beautifully balanced dance of flavors on a Sparrow Bakery brioche bun.

My friend told me that the fried chicken was excellent (unbeknownst to us at the time, it was a carryover from Gurnee’s days at Wayfare). We ordered the Nashville Chicken Sandwich. Nashville referred to the barbecue sauce that covered the chicken and Sparrow Bakery brioche bun, though it bore no resemblance to Tennessee barbecue. The sauce had a lot of vinegar that pinged the other ingredients, enhancing the chili, spices, and butter.

There was a bit too much sauce smothering the sandwich, so I’d recommend ordering it on the side. The fried chicken was tender, juicy, flavorful.

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