If you haven't been to The Astro Lounge in its new location on Bond Street, don't expect it to be anything like its previous incarnation on Minnesota Avenue.
The popular downtown Bend bar and restaurant moved into new digs in July, and owner Josh Maquet couldn't be more pleased.
“I love the façade,” said Maquet. “It has big high windows that allow you to look inside as you drive past, to see what's going on.
“I love the tall brick walls,” he said, noting that they frame the room on its south and north sides and provide space to display a large liquor inventory.
He also appreciates the length of his new space, previously a Sisters Coffee and Subway sandwich outlet. It extends past the bar and a row of high-backed booths to a 600-square-foot patio and fire pit that face a rear alley.
“The fact that the room is so long allows the bartenders to keep an eye on the entire room,” Maquet said. Capacity is 90, nearly twice the number of patrons that could be accommodated at the former dark, intimate lounge space.
Maquet, 39, was born in Illinois, studied restaurant and hotel management at Colorado State University, then found his way to Oregon. He moved to Bend in 1998 and became the first and only manager of the Astro when it opened in 2001.
The Astro is a restaurant as well as a lounge, with a modestly priced menu of small plates, salads, sandwiches and pizzas appealing to a palate that wants something more than traditional deep-fried bar food.
“We simplified the menu, due to the fact that we are still training our cooks, and we are serving twice as many people from a smaller kitchen than before,” Maquet said. Daily blackboard specials are planned, he said, enabling patrons to choose from a couple of home-style entrees in addition to the regular menu.
In the meantime, the food is really pretty good. On one solo visit, I had a salad and a pizza. On another occasion, my dining companion and I shared a starter and each had a hearty sandwich. We were never disappointed.
I shouldn't be surprised. Maquet is a graduate of Portland's Western Culinary Institute and a former sous chef at the Broken Top Club. Although his position now is more management than food prep, he takes it upon himself to train his kitchen staff.
Salad and pizza
The first dish I ordered was an arugula salad. It remains my most memorable.
A very generous amount of peppery arugula leaves were tossed with candied whole hazelnuts, pickled red onions and slices of red apples, then finished with a light and creamy fennel-Parmesan dressing. Even after finishing, I craved more.
My pizza was a “Spanish red pie,” made with #5 Red Sauce from Bend's own Barcelona Finishing Sauces. A rich, tomato-based sauce with a flavor that is at once nutty and smoky, it added zest to a thin-crust pizza topped with ground chorizo sausage, roasted red peppers, red onions and cotija cheese.
Here's a tip: Order your food, as I did, before 7 p.m., and you'll get $2 off nearly every plate with happy-hour prices. The reduced rates begin at 2 p.m., when the lunch hour has ended, and nothing is priced more than $7. But be warned that the bar staff won't give you the break if the order goes into the register even one minute after 7 o'clock!
Dinner for two
To begin a dinner for two, my companion and I ordered a crab-spinach-artichoke dip. It was one of the better ones we've had in Central Oregon. Thick enough to break house-made tortilla chips, but not overly salty, it featured big chunks of crab and whole artichoke hearts, with Asiago cheese baked on top to a golden brown.
My companion's open-faced meatloaf sandwich was richer than it appeared at first glance. The menu had promised mushroom gravy, but the slice of meat, about an inch thick, was served floating in a pool of au jus with only a few 'shrooms as adornment. She enjoyed the flavor, but deep-fried onion rings and an additional serving of hand-cut fries — sprinkled with parsley, garlic and Parmesan — presented more calories than she had anticipated.
On the other hand, I was very pleased with my pulled pork sandwich. This meal came with a substantial serving of tender pork on DiLusso sourdough bread, dressed with coleslaw and Barcelona's #7 Green Sauce (poblano and serrano peppers, cilantro, onions and tomatillos). I think there must have been a touch of chipotle mayonnaise, as well, unless my taste buds deceived me. I didn't even miss the cheddar cheese listed on the menu but forgotten by the kitchen.
Service was invariably prompt and attentive: The servers were definitely “on top of it.” Orders were taken, and food delivered, in a very timely fashion, and when we returned on another occasion, we were greeted as if we were old friends.
That's good, because the new Astro Lounge could become an old friend.
Seventh Mountain Resort has closed its fine-dining Seasons Restaurant except for special banquet occasions. Executive chef O.J. Robinson said Big Eddy's Cafe, the diner-style breakfast-and-lunch venue, will be expanded to accommodate dinner guests by spring. The adjacent Rim Rock Bar will continue to serve cocktails and appetizers to an après-ski crowd. Seasons will now become part of the resort's conference center. 18575 S.W. Century Drive, Bend; 877-765-1501 or www .seventhmountain.com.