Friday, March 13, 2009

What Was Nervous Pete Doing Eating in Bend, That's What I Said... Ahhh-aaah...

In the few days that I've been here, my austere Brit nature has been challenged by the sheer consumerism of America. Although it's a worrying characteristic, and one that the UK increasingly shares in, it is however immense fun for tourist Pete. Basically pretty much every meal aside from two breakfasts thus far has been eaten out.

So far a large chunk of my time here has been spent eating, and again for tourist Pete this is no bad thing. Mainly because the places I have been taken are pretty damn lush. But there's a curious confusion here, where people will order in or go out as a social bonding thing when they're not actually hungry, and this is rather baffling. For example Taco Bell champions itself with the slogan:

"The Fourth Meal between Midnight and Breakfast."

And pretty much do a roaring trade on that stance. The people I'm staying with are more reasonable, and are the sensible three meals a day kind with not much in the way of snacking. But still it's a surprise how much is eaten out - it's the default setting over here it seems, with eateries and take-away joints filling the roadside, seemingly employing a good chunk of Bend's population.

But I'm dangerously edging towards snootiness, where the Brit holds up his ration card and proudly champions his ten Weatherspoon chips on a plate aside a 6oz burger. Simply put, eating out here is way better than in the UK and the hit rate for a damn good meal is far higher. In restaurants and pubs, the competition is so fierce that they have to be damn sure of offering up some seriously memorable grub, and in the words, "Was everything fine with your dining experience?" they are not merely form as in the UK, or even the words of a waitress anxious for tips, but spoken in a deep seated anxiety for survival.

So - my top dining places thus far in Bend:

1: Baldy's

This is a small chain restaurant championed by Oprah, and where my friend Amber works. It's a small unpretentious diner with trapping equipment and wagon wheels on the walls, red gingham tablecloths and a two page menu. They mainly deal in the BBQ side of things, and proudly proclaim themselves the last BBQ eaterie in Bend - which although I'm assured is true I still find hard to believe. I had a garlic fried bread BBQ pork strip sandwich, with fries on the side and coleslaw. The pork was juicy and tender, the bread crisp and moist, the fries crunchy and melt in mouth. As for the coleslaw, so often a luke-warm limp afterthought in Brit eateries, it was in fact crunchy, cold and very flavoursome. I washed the meal down with a beer called Blonde Bombshell, a refreshing light and citrus fruity beer with a nice rough texture served in what looked to be a jam jar.

Not only was the service top notch, but the meal was free - which I mention in my respect for honesty in restaurant reviewing.

2: Yoko's Sushi

Reasonably priced with some good bottled Japanese beer. I checked out their Loco rolls with shrimp, salmon, avocado and tobiko (flying fish eggs) - all wrapped in seaweed with some fine smoky eel sauce. It was pretty succulent, and the rice was some of the best I'd ever tasted. The meal was amusingly served by the Springfield broken voiced teenager, and the lady preparing the food gave some handy tips on how to make the best sort of rice. (Wash and dry, wash and dry again and again apparently until the shiney film has gone.) I also had some octopus which was pretty nice in texture, if not overly flavourful. The spring rolls were crisp and succulent and the dips plenty. The prices were modest and the place was decked out in a light blue with an exotic fish tank. It was a very relaxed atmosphere, and the preparation behind the counter next to our table was fun to watch. The only difficulty was in finishing our portions, which looked modest but were extremely filling in actuality.

3: Black Horse

This is a trucker's stop, and predictably what it lacks in flavour it makes up for in portions. I had nachoes, a 'half plate' of them, and it was titanically huge platter sized portion at that. Service was rather slow, they sort of forgot about us in the corner, but when it came it was attentive. The nachoes were smothered in beef chilli, sour cream, cheese and just enough and not too many jalapaenoes. Unlike our dorito style nachoes, theirs are deep fried and very crispy. The only problem is that you end up feeling a bit queasy - or at least this Brit stomach did. Still, the only sensible way to do nachoes in my opinion, and my past experiences with the Brit version were left looking measily and cardboardy in the tucker's wake. Washed down with a pitcher of nut brown ale called 20 inch Brown, which was jolly nice. The trucker stop is full of... well, truckers and motorcyclists. The jukebox is country and rock and damn good at that. Motorcycles sport the walls, as does a rather touching name-plate memorial for KIA motorcyclist diners. Once again the beer menu was varied, with microbreweries shunting the domestic beers to a little box-out menu ghetto. Good stuff. Three quarters for a game of pool, which I won - I may add.

Also, the truckers cheerily wished my a good day, which was jolly nice as I was worried my limey accent would get me this:

"Aw, shit-box!"

Not so Good:


Oh dear, I guess it couldn't all be perfect. This wasn't a disaster, but it's an experience I'm going to damn with faint praise at most. The meal took a fair while in coming and when it did, my salmon steak was overdone and dry with little flavour left. The spinach salad however was huge with very tasty tortellini pasta and a just-right orange dressing. It was an epically big salad however, and despite my best efforts I could only eat half of it. Fellow diner Todd however had a worse time, with his burger with a sauce filling turning up half cold and pretty inedible. Things were rescued a little by the drinks menu. Although a little pricy, the Hammerhead wheat beer was crisp and one of the best I'd ever drank. Just the right touch of the banana, and not at all overpowering like most wheat beers. Fruity, pleasing aftertaste and the beer-mat logo is awesome, looking like an Art Spiegelman drawing of David Byrne with - well - a hammer for a head. While Todd and Amber had some very nourishing Terminator beer-shakes - stout milkshakes, basically. Also, I must add that the very attractive and courteous waitress looked like Maggie from Northern Exposure, and thus was tipped well by me.


But overall, pretty disappointing meal, especially for the price. Maybe because the place was busy. But still, come for the drink say I. And for the beer-shakes.

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