You may remember the accent-challenged Swedish chef from “The Muppet Show”: “So, de beency, bouncy burger, eh?”
But if you don't also know the Swedish chef who holds court in Sunriver, you're missing out on a good thing.
Lars Johnson, executive chef and co-owner of the South Bend Bistro, has no problem communicating; he's American, but of Swedish heritage. Even if he did, diners would find that his food speaks for itself.
For nearly seven years, Johnson and his wife, Jaymie, have welcomed guests to their intimate hideaway on the west side of Sunriver Mall.
Seating only about 40 and open just five nights a week, they have succeeded with an ever-evolving menu of contemporary American cuisine, a quaint and unpretentious atmosphere, and a level of service that makes diners feel as special as they might at a favorite relative's home.
Soup and salad
My dining companion and I were glad we made reservations when we arrived for an early dinner one busy weekend evening. Several parties who arrived after us were turned away and encouraged to call ahead on another night.
We were seated at a table that was simply but elegantly prepared with a white tablecloth and a single fresh flower. White walls, trimmed with varnished fir, displayed framed landscapes by a local photographer. Light fusion jazz played in the background. It could have been IKEA.
But there was nothing Scandinavian about the food. Johnson is clearly more comfortable with French and Italian cooking styles than with traditional Nordic lutefisk.
I began my dinner with a bowl of the soup du jour. The broccoli puree, blended with just a smidgen of cream, was very good even though it seemed to miss a finishing touch. A smear of creme fraiche, perhaps? A garnish of some sort?
My companion began with a Caesar salad, served with freshly baked bread. Crisp leaves of romaine were tossed with mildly garlicky house-made croutons, shredded parmesan cheese and a Caesar dressing also prepared in-house. The dressing featured anchovy paste, an essential ingredient in a true Caesar salad, but she found it heavy and somewhat pungent.
Duck and lasagna
She had no such complaints, however, about her entree, a savory pan-roasted duck breast. The tender, boneless breast was perfectly cooked and served sliced, accompanied by a port wine-lingonberry sauce that was at once sweet and slightly tart. The lingonberry is a touch of Sweden, a wild Scandinavian cranberry.
The duck was presented atop a “risotto” unlike any I've seen since my last visit to this restaurant five years ago. Rather than employing arborio rice, the common ingredient in risotto, Johnson sauteed finely diced sweet potatoes in butter, then slowly added hot stock to create a creamy complement to the duck. He added a handful of sweet-potato crisps as a garnish to the risotto. Long green beans and a blossom of broccoli were prepared al dente.
My entree was more Eastern Mediterranean in tempo, a moussaka-like lasagna made with layers of ground lamb and goat cheese. It was cloaked in a light mushroom-and-tomato sauce, seasoned with rosemary and ample garlic. Melted mozzarella and parmesan cheeses filled out the flavor.
For dessert, we shared an order of creme brulee with a hint of vanilla flavoring. After a big meal, we prefer a lighter sweet, and this was perfect.
Meet the chef
Lars Johnson grew up in the Chicago area, where he was a graduate of the Kendall College Culinary Arts Program. He studied under leading chefs in Chicago and San Francisco before traveling around the United States for several years, stopping to cook at restaurants in Oregon, Colorado and Tennessee.
He spent much of 1994 and 1995 in Bend, working as a line cook at the old Giuseppe's restaurant on Bond Street. But memories of Central Oregon lingered after he returned to Chicago, where he and a friend partnered in a daytime cafe for four years.
“I fell in love with Bend,” he said. “I knew I wasn't going to settle in Chicago. So when I met my wife-to-be, I told her we need to move out to Oregon and live happily ever after.”
The fairy tale began when he and Jaymie purchased the former Walker's Grill in 2005 and celebrated by getting married. Their daughter, Ana, was born in mid-2009.
Although Johnson doesn't often bow to Swedish tradition, he offers one Scandinavian specialty each summer — gravlax flatbread. Jaymie makes the bread, Lars said, while he cures his own salmon.
And it's far better than a beency, bouncy burger.
Deschutes Brewery will formally open its remodeled restaurant and brewpub Wednesday after more than a week of “soft openings.” The expansion, which more than doubles the previous dining space, includes a special-events area on an upper floor. Open 11 a.m. to close every day. 1044 N.W. Bond St., Bend; www.deschutesbrewery.com or 541-382-9242.
The fourth annual Chili Cook-Off to benefit the Education Foundation for Bend-La Pine Schools will be held Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Athletic Club of Bend (61615 Athletic Club Drive). Presented by Ace Hardware, the event will feature entrants from such local restaurants as 10 Barrel, 900 Wall, Baldy's BBQ, Blue Apron (Mountain View High School), Elevation (COCC), The Phoenix, the Pronghorn Club, Rockin' Daves Bagel Bistro, Scanlon's, Taqueria los Jalapeņos and Zydeco. Tickets are $10 for ages 12 and over, $5 for ages 6 to 11, and are available at the door.
Letzer's Deli has opened a second shop in Bend, catering to the downtown business crowd as an adjunct to its original store on Southeast Division Street. The new sandwich shop is located at the rear of the Re/Max building on Franklin Avenue, between Bond Street and Lava Road. Most sandwiches, including pastrami and chopped liver, are in the $7 to $10 range. Open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. 431 N.W. Franklin Ave., Bend; www.letzersdeli.com or 541-306-3750.