My first impression upon entering the Bond Street Grill, formerly known as Decoy Bar and Grill, was that of a warm and delicious-smelling haven from downtown bustle.
The wind was blowing and the chill was sharp. But the moment we stepped into the restaurant I was reminded of other cozy club-type restaurants I've enjoyed in my life, from the classic Bull and Finch Pub in Boston (the original Cheers) to dozens of other similar places in the Bay Area.
The restaurant was about half full. There were several large groups chatting, drinking and eating, and everyone seemed comfortable and happy. Although the patrons were primarily of the AOL users crowd, younger people were filing in, perhaps anticipating the live blues and jazz music that the restaurant has on Saturday nights. The music is a new addition since father-and-son team Fran and Chris Nardella purchased the restaurant last year. In December, they changed the name to Bond Street Grill. Fran was a physician in Phoenix and Chris had managed restaurants, but this is the first restaurant they have owned.
The Nardellas decided to move to the area last summer after a trip here left them enamored with Bend. When they learned the Decoy restaurant was for sale, they felt it was the perfect next step.
I expected a scaled-down menu with glaring signs of thrift. In fact, what I experienced was that the previous prices had been adjusted slightly - a dollar or two on most items - to better fit the classy casual atmosphere, and that the quality and beautiful presentation of the food was still very evident.
The new menu includes steamed clams, grilled steelhead, a thick grilled pork chop and huevos rancheros, replacing some items like the Anaheim pepper skins, baked shrimp and grits, crab melt and London broil.
On this visit, I had the fish tacos special ($6) made with spicy seasoned rock fish, crunchy marinated cabbage and pico de gallo wrapped in warm corn tortillas, making for a delightful textural experience.
My companion had the blackened chicken special, which was served in a huge bowl on top of smooth and creamy mashed potatoes with tender asparagus and thinly sliced carrots that were cooked just enough to retain the slightest crispness. The potatoes were topped with the chicken pan sauce. Although thin, the sauce was dark and rich with all the deglazed goodness from the pan.
We shared a brownie sundae for dessert ($6) that was the perfect end to the meal. A not-too-rich, warm chocolate brownie was topped with caramel sauce, toasted hazelnuts that were cooked to crunchy golden perfection, whipped cream and a cherry.
On our second visit - this time for lunch - we shared a variety of dishes. The Margherita pizza ($9) was tasty, but didn't have the expected sliced tomatoes or fresh mozzarella and no basil that I could see.
We also had the baked Florentine soup ($7), which was like having the best-ever grilled cheese sandwich right on top of the soup. Huge soft croutons topped with cheese and broiled on top of the hearty and creamy tomato soup thick with carrots, onions and chopped kale.
The best part of lunch was the chicken, ranch and bacon sandwich ($10). The bread was thick, well-textured sourdough, grilled to a buttery golden brown and filled with tender chunks of chicken, bacon and spinach. It was served with fries that were thin and wide, and accompanied by house-made bread and butter pickle slices.
The Nardellas are excited about the chance to carve a niche in Bend.
They plan to keep the menu fairly eclectic, evolving it slowly to be more focused on as many local foods as possible.
As we prepared to step back out into the cold winter day, our appetites well sated, we knew that we had found a new restaurant to add to our list of favorites. It will be a pleasure to watch the Bond Street Grill evolve into the restaurant that the Nardellas envision. They are already off to a great start.