We like our rating systems, don't we Bend? When I'm travelling, I set my Zagat criteria to 20 or higher (in search of the best). When I'm in Bend, I compare each dining experience to the one before - my own personal ranking system. In Bend, ratings are as ubiquitous as bumper stickers and reputation counts. Restaurants come and go; few stand the test of time. The New Lodge Restaurant at Black Butte Ranch has clear staying power and earns high marks in my book.
The main lodge houses both The New Lodge Restaurant and the Aspen Lounge upstairs. Both feature farm-to-table menus by Chef Dean Ecker, emphasizing elk and other regional meats, seasonal vegetables and ranch-raised herbs. The late-afternoon weather was perfect so we took a seat on the balcony overlooking the scenery, made even more special by the wedding taking place on the grounds below. Romantic? Yes.
Menus were laid before us and a friendly, knowledgeable server described happy hour specials. I leafed through the menus, made my selections and sat back to enjoy the view. I then noticed the four-foot-tall glass wall surrounding the balcony, effectively blocking the wind without hindering the view. Points for attention to detail.
Cocktails arrived quickly. True to its name, the Quench ($8) proved satiating with a mix of vodka, lemonade and cranberry juice. My companion's Whole Shebang, a take on a Long Island Iced Tea made with Blue Curacao, was equally refreshing. The cocktail menu also features martinis priced in the $8-to-$9 range. In addition, an award-winning wine menu offers an expansive variety of regional and international wines.
We were drawn to items on both menus and our server had no problem accommodating our requests. I started with the Spinach salad ($10), choosing it over the equally desirable Salmon Cobb ($13). The grilled pears, candied hazelnuts, roasted mushrooms and golden raisin dressing were a locavore's dream. Roquefort cheese acted as a salty counterpoint to the salad, while hazelnuts provided texture and fresh shitakes added rich flavor.
Our appetizer selection, the BBQ Shrimp Quesadilla ($11) arrived shortly after. Grilled peach BBQ shrimp, fragrant cilantro and roasted fennel, dunked into salsa took the dish from good to great. Other notable appetizers include Oysters ($20/dozen) and daily Happy Hour specials ($6).
When it comes to the entrees at Black Butte Ranch, it's hard to go wrong. The Pan-Seared Halibut ($28) with Oregon hazelnut pesto, beluga lentils, sautéed mushrooms, tart apple salad and fried ricotta crepes was mouth-watering from the first bite to the last. Perfectly cooked, the fish was light and flaky. Apple salad and fried crepes added flavor and texture but didn't overpower the filet. I was also impressed by the Goat Cheese Stuffed Breast of Chicken ($22). With a nod to French provincial cuisine, the chicken was stuffed and pan-seared with skin-on and accompanied by gnocchi, pork sausage, peas, corn, cipollini onions and roasted summer squash. Both dishes were fantastic. And what's a ranch menu without beef? Ranch-raised steaks come in several cuts, priced between $23 and $30, including a choice of side.
Although few restaurants have staying power in Central Oregon, it's not hard to believe that Black Butte Ranch is celebrating 40 years. Unlike newer restaurants, the Lodge Restaurant is able to focus on details that other restaurants might overlook. And there's nothing "old" about the menu, it changes seasonally. From the wind-shielded patio with amazing views, to beautifully executed entrees and locally-focused, seasonal menu - no detail is left undone. For all of these reasons, The New Lodge Restaurant ranks high on my list.
The New Lodge Restaurant
13653 Hawksbeard Rd., Black Butte Ranch. 541-595-1260. www.blackbutteranch.com/dining. Open 7 days/week, Breakfast 8-11:30am, Lunch 11:30am - 2:30p.m., Dinner 5pm - close