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'Tis a Gift to Be Simple: South of the (city) border, Sunriver bistro rivals Bend's best 

click to enlarge Baked halibut at the south Bend bistro.
  • Baked halibut at the south Bend bistro.
Baked halibut at the south Bend bistro.
I read an interview in the New York Times last week with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio of the Craft restaurant family and most recently of Top Chef fame. When asked about his cooking philosophy, he said, "Buy the best you can find or afford and don't overmanipulate it. If I cook a scallop, the best praise you can give me is that it tastes like a scallop." Chef Lars Johnson of the South Bend Bistro in Sunriver seems to subscribe to a similar doctrine, serving the freshest ingredients with bright flavors and clean, considered preparations that maximize what is inherent in the food.

The kitchen isn't the only area where this sophisticated simplicity and adaptability shines. The cozy dining room situated in a little house adjacent to the Sunriver Village Mall, plays on the residential architectural elements. Tables peer out framed windows with parted curtains at the beautiful outdoor deck overlooking the woods. A terra cotta tile floor is scattered with mismatched area rugs adding warmth to the space. Lighting is intimate, and wall treatments are alternately wood, straw weave, and textured plaster dotted with framed photographs of nature scenes. A single purple tulip, appropriately in season for May, adorns each table, and tablecloths are beige, a nice departure from the usual white, indicating a slightly different, homier take on high-end.

The wine list is modest, with a good percentage priced at $35 and under. It's entirely regional with the usual quartet of aarea whites (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay) and reds (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a few blends). Though the selection is limited, it's well chosen.

The changing menu also offers relatively few options, but it's hard to imagine that anyone would have trouble ordering. A couple of appetizers, a soup du jour, and a handful of salads ($6-$9 large/$4-$5 small) make up the starters. The soup du jour one night, a mixed mushroom puree with a touch of cream, was a perfect beginning. The flavor of the mushrooms was strong and uncompromised, and the texture, on the courser side, made for a thick and hearty consistency. Appetizers were sautéed shrimp cakes ($12) or Dungeness crab cakes ($14). We went with the less common shrimp option. Served on a pool of lemon butter sauce, the two large cakes were lightly fried and firm. The red pepper, the most discernable flavor next to the shrimp, worked nicely to create a beautiful bite.

There were only seven entrées to choose from, but they covered a lot of ground-seafood, poultry, beef and a couple of attractive pasta options. I went with the grilled beef tenderloin in a balsamic veal reduction ($28). The meat was perfectly cooked to order, which in my case is almost medium, not a chef's favorite temperature for beef. But as I ordered it apologetically, our gracious server told me that the chef wants to cook it the way I want to eat it-a refreshing response from the usual disparaging looks. It was served with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and thick spears of asparagus and broccoli. Finally, some green vegetables on the side. Oregon's long squash season is a killer. My companion ordered the sautéed halibut ($25). Served with the same sides, I was a little jealous. The generous piece of fish was golden, and the accompanying melted leek and basil cream sauce was delicious.

The crowd at South Bend Bistro is on the older side, an expected result of the resort location, and by 8:33 p.m. on a Wednesday, it was just us, a lovely chocolate crème brûlée and a giant mug of coffee (a nice break from the usual tiny cups) to prep us for our long drive back to Bend. Turns out it's really only like 15 minutes, so I have a feeling I'll be back again soon.

South Bend Bistro
57080 West Mall Dr. (at 1 Mall Dr.), Sunriver, 593-3881
Wed.-Sun., 4-10 p.m.


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