Helping the poor by gorging the rich seems to be the perfect formula in fund-raising, and the Sagebrush Classic in Bend is Oregon's ultimate fundraising feast. Who can resist 18 celebrity chefs from four continents, preparing 18 courses to feed a hungry mass of 1,300 well-heeled Central Oregonians? Neither myself nor my carload of Portland-based food writers, who have been engaging the art of absolute gluttony for the past 24 hours, could resist a weekend binge in sunny Bend.
Other than the event's big dinner, which hasn't happened yet, I didn't expect to impressed by the Bend culinary world. I was wrong.
San Francisco-based chef Jody Denton participated in the Sagebrush Classic for years and liked Central Oregon so much he moved to Bend. The 2002 opening of his restaurant and wine bar Merenda (900 NW Wall) was a turning point in Bend cuisine, which according to a Bend resident, was formerly defined by burritos, buffalo wings and chain restaurants.
His recent offering, Deep (821 NW Wall), doesn't feel like it belongs in Central Oregon at all. This Modern Japanese-influenced eatery feels straight out of of New York City. With dark Brazilian wood and white tile finishes, plus offerings like perfectly taut house-made udon in oxtail broth, Kobe beef gyoza and tempura fried bacon (that's right) ,Deep has become a favorite of Bend's super-fit mid-40s demographic—and me. That's not all.
Kent Chapple opened Thump Coffee (25 NW Minnesota) in February on a side street in Downtown Bend, and the cozy place serves up Stumptown complete with latte art as well executed as most places in Portland. Bend is bumping.
Tonight is the big Sagebrush Classic event: 1,300 diners, 18 chefs, many courses, a live band flown in from San Francisco and many drunken Diamond-studded, suntanned members Bend's Nouveau Riche. I'll have a full report tomorrow by noon.