Thursday, December 09, 2010

Around the Bend

My youth was ringed with the snowy peaks of the high Cascades, and I'd recite their names as I looked at them: the Three Sisters (Faith, Hope and Charity), Mts. Jefferson and Washington, Three-Fingered Jack and Broken Top. I spent summers playing in their dark lakes on family camping trips, breathing the air of the high desert scented with pine, juniper and sage. Red cinder colored the streets and bordered the highways, and black lava rock made good fences.

Closeup of the surface of the Painted Hills.

Bend was a big city to me then, so much more sophisticated than our little town. My mother, normally not one to put up with any excuse not to go to school ("Sniffles? Off with you!"), would sometimes keep me home from school to go to Bend to shop and then have lunch at the Pine Tavern. Still situated on the banks of the Deschutes River at one end of the grassy stretch of Drake Park, she'd request a table along the windows overlooking the placid waters. I'd order something exotic like chicken salad (green grapes! almonds!) or a club sandwich (multi-layered triangles with bacon!), admiring the live tree growing through the floor and up through the ceiling of the restaurant.

Recently I returned to Bend on an assignment to interview a bartender, Columbine Quillen (right), who forages native plants for the tinctures and bitters she uses in her cocktails. We would be going out to the Painted Hills (top photo), part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, to gather ingredients and take photos, which meant I needed to arrive the night before. Accommodations had been arranged at the new Oxford Hotel downtown, a brand-new Euro-chic boutique hotel, and I'd been assigned a balcony room on the upper floors. Overlooking not only the quiet street below but with a gaspingly gorgeous view of the Sisters, it guaranteed that the TV wouldn't have a chance of being turned on.

The next morning I opted not to have breakfast in the hotel's darkly elegant restaurant, 10 Below, and instead popped across the street for coffee and a scone at a sweet little coffee and community-obsessed place called Thump (left). Sufficiently caffeinated to try to ask coherent questions, Columbine and I sat in the back seat while our photographer, the Oregonian's Tom Boyd, drove east through Prineville and out into the wilds of Crook County.

We saw the striated domes of the hills before we got to the park itself and decided to stop just outside its boundaries, since once you enter the park you can't wander off the marked trails. The other-worldly beauty that met us was stunning, the red, cracked, crumbly hills rising out of a flat, sagebrush and juniper-covered landscape.

Columbine Quillen foraging.

We gathered samples of sagebrush, juniper berries, small flowers and tiny ground-growing cacti, with some researching in store for the ones that hadn't been identified on previous trips. They all went into a big black plastic department-store shopping bag, so incongruous in this moonscape location.

Once back in town it was time to decide on dinner and, since Columbine had to work and Tom was on his way back to Portland, I would be dining solo. It would be an understatement to say I'm not accustomed to this situation, and I vacillated between going downstairs to the hotel's restaurant or checking out a place that Columbine had recommended. After lecturing myself sternly, I struck out for Ariana in Bend's Westside neighborhood.

Owned by parents Glenn and Susan Asti and their daughter and son-in-law Andres and Ariana Fernandez, it's located in a snug bungalow that gives a certain cozy quality to the dining room. There are linen-covered tables scattered around the main room, with a bar angled across one corner. I took a seat at that bar and asked for a glass of wine with the carpaccio (left) that Columbine had said was the best she'd ever had.

Made from pepper-crusted beef tenderloin drizzled with truffle oil, horseradish crème fraiche, parmesan and scallions, it's a beautiful plate and tastes terrific, even if the freshness of the raw beef is somewhat buried under the garnishes. My salad of roasted beets and arugula with a puff of chevre-infused pastry was simple and delightful, and was a delicious lead-in to my entrée, a perfectly prepared chanterelle risotto topped with microgreens (right). The service was attentive and kind to a solo diner, and I had fun chatting with Susan, who was working the bar the night I was there.

The next morning I'd taken the extremely indulgent step of scheduling an in-room massage, and the concierge at the hotel arranged for Patrick Kincart of Bend Bodyworks to come in and work me over. It was exactly what I needed, since I'm not a fan of those light massages that feel like the therapist could use some upper body work (on herself).

Refreshed and ravenous, I packed the car and on the way out of town stopped at Bend's first food cart, Soupçon, run by chef Steven Draheim (left). His stated mission is "to flood the city with soup," and to that end he's offering two daily soups as well as a couple of salad and sandwich offerings with "a sense of adventure."

And those mountains? Still there, and I could still name them all.


Loo said...

Wow, this takes me back there. Stunning country, the Painted Hills. This is a road trip I would have love to have gone on with you! But then you wouldn't have had the chance to dine solo!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Next time you come up we'll do a road trip!

Columbine Quillen said...

Thanks for the shout out, I'm glad you enjoyed the carpaccio!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks so much for your help on all of it. Hope the new job is going well!