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Bringing the Islands to the North Side: Bend Fish Company adds Hawaiian fare to its menu 

Five years doesn't qualify a business as an "institution," but given the recent mortality rate for Bend restaurants, we need an apt label for tenacious establishments like Bend Fish Company. "For the first 18 months... we hit a home run, but then the [stuff] hit the fan," recalls Mike West who, along with his wife Cynthia, started the eatery in 2005. "We've survived, but lately it's been hard and we've had to find other revenue streams."

The Wests built their reputation with moderately priced, well-prepared seafood served in a casual environment. To increase revenue, a sushi bar was added in 2007. The latest complement to their menu is "Island Grind'z Hawaiian BBQ," inspired by their son Justin's culinary school project, completed while moonlighting at an island grill restaurant near San Francisco.

Grindz (island slang for "food") usually consists of barbequed fish, pork or beef, served with lots of rice, pasta, potatoes or combinations thereof. In Hawaii you might get fried eggs and spam over white rice with gravy - a concoction known as "loco moco." Thankfully, not every restaurant strives for absolute authenticity - Bend Fish Company has tried to blend the best of the islands' Asian and Polynesian influences with their own ideas.

The Grindz menu consists of five different entrees as well as sandwiches and salads. Two side dishes are included with all meals except salads, the options being potato-mac salad, mango salsa, steamed or brown rice and peanut coconut cole slaw. Prices range from $7.50 to $11.00 for both lunch and dinner.

On my initial visit, a companion and I shared Coconut Shrimp and Shoyu Chicken. The shrimp was delicious, perfectly fried to that Brach's caramel color with big flakes of coconut clinging all around. I've never had shrimp with such a pleasant hint of coconut, a flavor usually lost somewhere in the murky depths of the fryer. The accompanying mango dipping sauce had a sneaky jalapeno zing and although enjoyable, it masked the delicacy of the shrimp and coconut for me.

The chicken was a breast marinated, then glazed with teriyaki sauce during grilling. The meat was cooked through, but still tender and quite flavorful, yet edging toward the upper end of my saltiness range.

On my second visit, I tried Kalua Pork and the Huli Huli Fish. The pork was guava-marinated and slow roasted for twelve hours. It was well worth the effort. The dish was beyond tender and extraordinarily rich, with a wonderful smoky sweetness.

The Huli-Huli fish of the day was grilled and glazed with a sweet pineapple barbeque sauce. That day's fish was marlin, which is lean and meaty, but often a little chewy and shark-like. This was no exception. Given the tasty sauce and careful preparation, however, I'm sure another day and another fish would pique my appetite more.

The potato-mac and the cole slaw side dishes were a little bland my first visit, but nicely seasoned the next. The mango salsa was ono! ("Delicious" in Hawaiian.) I wanted to take a barrel home! It was a delightful complement to everything.

Devotees of the old Bend Fish Company need not worry. The restaurant still features fish tacos, sushi, eight kinds of fish and chips with unique tartar sauces, plus a live crab tank for the upcoming Dungeness season. Indeed, the extensive seafood menu is what differentiates Bend Fish Company from the other island-style-grills in town. But now you can take your fish-phobic pals or kids along and they'll be happy, too. It's still ultra casual with no table service, get your own drink, industrial strength plastic plates and plastic utensils. Bend Fish Company's Hawaiian Grind'z is no frills - just good food in a relaxed atmosphere.

Bend Fish Company
212 NE Revere, 541-330-6131. Daily 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday


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