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Bend's Godmother of Dining: Pine Tavern offers lessons only history can teach 

click to enlarge Seeing the forest for the trees.
  • Seeing the forest for the trees.
Seeing the forest for the trees. In Bend's increasingly volatile dining scene, Pine Tavern is a stalwart. Established in 1936, it has perfected the recipe for success in the restaurant business: a warm and comfortable atmosphere, impeccable service, and, of course, great food. The oft-mentioned lore of the place is certainly a draw, notably the 250-year-old live ponderosa pine tree growing through the middle of the main dining room. Others come for the setting. You'll find some of Bend's most sought-after tables on the patio overlooking the Deschutes during the summer and, when the nights get cold, some of the coziest in the dimly lit lounge. Some patrons wait for the special menus that are offered periodically. In fact, I returned last week to check out the featured "Taste the Pastabilities" menu.

Using fresh ingredients in simple yet carefully considered preparations, every element of the meal is a winner. From homemade salad dressings, soups, and fresh scones with honey butter starting each meal to satisfying sides and subtle, savory sauces, nothing is a throwaway. Favorite starters include the Calamari Fritti with wasabi aioli ($9.75). It is lightly breaded and fried, well seasoned, and cooked to the ideal consistency, textured but not rubbery. A standout on the special pasta menu (which they should consider making a regular) was the gorgonzola and hazelnut ravioli appetizer in a creamy tomato sauce topped with kalamata olives and parmesan ($7.95). The ravioli, crisped around the edges, were flavorful without being too busy or too rich.

Entrees ($15.95-$31.95), all hefty portions, include a variety of steak dinners cooked to order using locally raised hormone-free beef, as well as seafood and pasta dishes made with equal care. Among the best is the Jägerschnitzel, a thick veal cutlet pan fried with a wild mushroom demi-glace, served with garlic mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage. If you're squeamish about the baby cow issue, try the Marinated Flank Steak. You'll get the same superb sauce and creamy mashed potatoes without the guilt. Also notable is the Pork Tenderloin Oregonian, pan-seared tenderloin with a hazelnut crust topped with marionberry-merlot sauce. The fruit in the sauce brings out the taste of the meat without being treacly. For the less carnivorous, the pastas are inventive and hearty. Try the Prawn Tortellini, a generous plate of cheese tortellini with sautéed shrimp, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce topped with blue cheese. Like the ravioli appetizer, the many distinct, potent flavors work together without any individual ingredient overwhelming the sum.

Dessert options ($5.50-$6.75) are classic: cobbler, crème brûlée, chocolate cake, and the like. But if you look around the room, the clear victor is the Sky High Mud Pie-a mountain of ice cream on a cookie crust with fudge, nuts, and, of course, whipped cream-though after a meal like this, you may not make a dent.

Almost as impressive as the quality of the food is the service. The wait staff is not only knowledgeable about the menu and wine list, but also enthusiastic. You can tell that they've actually tried and enjoyed much of what they're describing. With an environment that's cozy and classy with no attitude, and a menu that achieves dramatic effect without ostentation or pretense, the Pine Tavern offers a truly exceptional dining experience. It's no wonder it has lasted so long.

Pine Tavern Restaurant

967 NW Brooks St., 382-5581. Lunch M-Sat 11:30am, dinner daily 5:30-9:30pm


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