Johnny Carino’s sneak preview

Last night we got a sneak preview dinner (along with about a zillion other people) at the new Johnny Carino’s at the north end of town. It was kind of their shakedown cruise to train and assess the staff and work out any glitches ahead of time; my wife had gotten an invite, so we went. (Everything except drinks was half off, too.)

It was actually very, very good, except for the amount of time everything took—and this we attribute simply to being a preview, testing night—we were there for an hour and a half or so, most of that time waiting on the food. Otherwise, the drinks, the service, and the food were all excellent. I’d definitely go back again, but after a few weeks have passed to give them time to work out all the kinks.

Bend restaurants blog

A new local weblog has popped up: Bend Oregon Restaurants. Found it when “BrENDa” (its author) left a couple comments here. Finally! A good restaurant review/guide blog for Bend, by someone who knows what they’re talking about.

And you gotta love the honesty in her reviews: read the O’Kane’s review or the Bon Bien review to see what I mean. My favorite line: “Bon Bien is Non Bien.”

Bluefish Bistro

We ate at Bluefish Bistro (no website that I see; instead here’s a link to The Source’s dining guide entry) in Downtown Bend last Saturday (my wife and I), and yes, I’m just now getting around to writing about it. Bluefish is one of the newest restaurants in the current trend of upscale, fine dining experiences in Bend (others being Merenda, Cork, Zydeco, Ariana, for instance), and it’s also one of the most expensive. More on that in a bit.

Located downtown on Franklin, on the corner of Drake Park and Franklin basically, it’s kind of an unassuming place from the outside. I don’t know if that bodes well or not because that location has generally seen more turnover than other places downtown; I can think of two previous establishments there in recent memory. Inside is nice, more character; I particularly like the water fountain dividing the entry area from the dining room.

One nice touch: the water had a fresh sprig of mint in it. My wife wasn’t sure how well she liked that, but I thought it was refreshing—we grew up with a lot of mint growing in the gardens, and there’s nothing quite like being able to pick and eat fresh mint leaves.

The bread was very good, but it was the butter that stood out. There are three kinds: a sweet butter, a honey almond butter, and a tangerine butter. They were, frankly, amazing.

A note to beer drinkers: they apparently don’t have any beer on tap, it’s all bottled, and at four dollars a bottle, you’d probably be better off going with a glass of wine (which is what I did).

The food was good, but expensive: all the entrees were in the mid to upper twenties, the heirloom tomato salad was $12, glasses of wine tended to run seven dollars and up. The food was excellent—I had the halibut which was tender and moist and flaky, along with well-chosen root vegetables (beets and turnips, I want to say), and the vanilla cheesecake was stunning—but I think it’s the most expensive of restaurants we’ve been to lately. Sad to say, this will be the limiting factor as to how often we visit Bluefish, I imagine.

Overall, a very good dining experience. If you can afford it, it’s worth a try at least once.

Ariana

Amid all the craziness of the past weekend, my wife and I were able to have a Saturday evening out (the grandparents watched the kids). We went to Ariana with Shannon and her fiancé

Ariana is located on Bend’s west side, in one of the renovated old houses that make up much of the west side’s character. My review, in a word: awesome! The weather was just right to sit out on the patio, the wait staff was refreshingly good, the food was excellent. Next time, though, when we’re out with friends, I’ll order an appetizer; Shannon wrote that I “ate off our plates” and that makes me sound like a homeless person or something. Really, I’m not.

The one nagging question I have is whether the Spaten Oktoberfest I ordered was on tap or from the bottle. Bottle is fine, I don’t know of any other restaurant in town that has it, but if it’s on tap, then kudos, Ariana. Kudos indeed.

Seriously, I’m not a homeless guy.

Win a café in Eastern Oregon

You can win a café in Eastern Oregon by entering Ma & Pa’s Café Essay Contest. Really! It’s a diner located in Imbler, Oregon, about 12 miles northeast of La Grande. All you have to do is submit a 500-word essay and $150 entry fee by August 1st, and you have a chance to win the café and $50,000 in start-up cash.

It’s a prototypical old-school diner in a tiny agricultural town (Imbler only has about 380 people); check out their pictures. Not only would you have to have a burning desire to run such a place, but you’d also have to commit to living in rural northeast Oregon (largest cities are Pendleten and La Grande, at about 16,000 and 13,000, repsectively). It’s certainly an intruiging notion, I’d be tempted to enter just to see, though I think that’d be a tough sell to my family :).

Still, I notice that there’s no obligation or limit to what the winner can do with the place, and there also appears to be a scarcity of microbreweries in eastern Oregon… that would be an interesting thought.

Bend.com has a write-up on this, too, with a detailed interview of the couple “selling” the café.

Jake’s Diner is moving

I heard this on the radio this morning, and then caught this article in the Bend Bulletin: Jake’s Diner is moving to the eastside. The spot? The Royal Thai Cafe building, behind Bedmart and Scrap-a-Doodle… which, if anyone keeps track, seems to be a death knell for restaurants. I can remember Sully’s (Italian) was there, and KC’s (Kasey’s?) BBQ, something else, and the afore-mentioned Royal Thai Cafe.

Jake’s is a Bend institution, seems like it should get better than that. But you know what’s ironic? I’ve never eaten there.

3 newish Bend restaurants

Two weekends ago, the in-laws were in town from Chicago, and as always happens, we went out to dinner (and lunch) every day they were here. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be much to write about, but while they were here ate out at three of the newer restaurants here in Bend: Zydeco, Mercury Diner and Anthony’s HomePort. I thought I’d post a mini-review of each.

Zydeco

I’ve only eaten here twice, my wife a handful of times, and already we agree it’s one of the best places to eat in Bend. (If not the best.) Everyone I’ve spoken to who has eaten there agrees. Great food, great service, great ambience. Surprisingly, they even turned out to be kid-friendly (our three and five year olds didn’t complain), even though you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

The two times I’ve been there, I had fish. The steelhead was great, the redfish was excellent. Everything on the menu looks good! Full range of cocktails, too; their signature drink is a blueberry martini. I had that the first time, it was good and a little different; they make their own blueberry syrup mix and after it sets for a few minutes it tends to settle to the bottle of the glass, so you need to stir it up. Fortunately that doesn’t really interfere with the enjoyment.

And dessert! The only one we’ve had their is the almond wet cake, probably the best (and most unique) dessert in Bend. It’s hard to describe; it’s like a pound cake that has been soaked in something like four different kinds of milk (they told us something similar to this the first time we had it), so it literally is wet. Yet fantastic. Try it.

The only drawback I could find for Zydeco is their location: they’re in the south part of Bend, on Third Street in the old Skippers building between Carrera Motors and Burger King. If you know that area of town (and that location specifically), you know that it’s not real convenient to get to and is not the place you’d expect for an upscale restaurant to be. Their traffic seems to be doing well so far, but if anything’s going to work against them I’d say it’s the location.

Mercury Diner

Speaking of unexpected locations, you’ll find the Mercury Diner in one at the intersection of College Way and Newport Avenue, nearly sharing a lot with a gas station. I like Mercury Diner quite a bit; my wife does not. It’s upscale dining in an almost ’50s diner atmosphere—much of the seating is in fact booths and for larger parties (six or more) they drag tables together to make room.

Still, they have good food (I haven’t had a bad meal there yet) and reasonable service. A good beer selection, too (I haven’t run into many places around here that have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap). Much of the fare is southern in origin; the owners are originally from Texas, so you’ll tend to find spicier food and big portions.

I like the atmosphere, but it’s not really for big parties. We’ve always been there with six or more, and it gets crowded really quick like that. Even so, it’s worth it.

Just be sure to ask how spicy a dish is before you order it.

Anthony’s HomePort

Literally brand new and located in the Old Mill District, this is probably one of the flashiest restaurants around (if the TVs above the urinals in the men’s room—among other things—are any indication). They are in a great location, on the river with great westerly views of the mountains (or they would have been great views, if it wasn’t winter and overcast), and the decor is extremely fancy. We had dinner upstairs, but a word of warning: it was very drafty. The entire area is open (it’s kind of like a loft), and the table we were at was directly in the airflow of the vents. I suspect sitting upstairs during the summer would be more enjoyable.

The food was very good, though. I had halibut with a sour cream sauce of some kind baked on top of it, very different and tasty. Everyone else’s meals looked good too. And, the menu is nearly entirely seafood, with only three or four steak dishes (rumor has it that there was a chicken special once), so if you don’t eat seafood (like my wife), you may want to avoid it.

Our waitress was a little daffy, I don’t know if she was having a rough night or we were just too big a group (eight of us) with some unusual food requests, or if it was just her. Maybe she was a little overwhelmed? Whatever, we’ve definitely had better service at other places, but it wasn’t bad enough to be a dealbreaker for me. Of course, I’m more tolerant than most people with restaurant service…

As I said, the decor is amazing and flashy. I found myself pausing on the stairs on my way to and from the restroom just to look around, particularly at the entirely open kitchen. I think this will definitely be a popular place because of this, their prime location in the Old Mill District and the views they’ll boast. On the other hand, being in the Old Mill means there’s extremely limited parking; be prepared to walk a few blocks to get there.

Overall, I’d try it again when the weather is nicer.