The task of being a restaurant critic isn’t all fun and games. From time to time, I come upon an establishment to which I would love to give a glowing review, but responsibility to my readers prohibits me from doing so.
Such is the case with Takoda’s in Sisters. The young men who own and operate this restaurant, in the Three Wind Shopping Center off U.S. Highway 20 on the west side of Sisters, bend over backward to make their patrons feel at home.
Hardworking cousins Kyle and Trey Harbick — ages 22 and 20, respectively — moved to Central Oregon last spring from Blue River, where Trey’s parents, Darin and Kail Harbick, own the original Takoda’s on the McKenzie River east of Eugene.
The young owners’ only previous restaurant experience had been in washing dishes and waiting tables at the family business. Tutored by Darin, they learned all aspects of the operation, from hiring local employees to designing a menu to handling the bookkeeping. And in June of last year, maintaining the tin-roofed bunkhouse ambience of two failed predecessors (Coyote Creek Cafe and the short-lived Soji Cafe), Takoda’s opened in Sisters.
The name Takoda means “friend to all” in a Siouxan dialect. On both of my recent visits, the Harbicks and their staff took that slogan to heart. From the moment that I was greeted at the front door and ushered to a table, I felt as though I was attended by people who really cared about my experience. Orders were taken quickly and accurately, meals were delivered with reasonable speed, servers checked back to confirm that I was satisfied.
Unfortunately, I was not satisfied. Lunchtime sandwiches were mediocre. Breakfasts were prepared with such a heavy hand that even the toast was burnt. The adjoining cocktail lounge couldn’t get it right either.
The best thing about my lunch was a cup of New England-style clam chowder. Made with lots of clams and seasoned with an ample amount of fresh dill, it incorporated pieces of celery and skin-on chunks of red potatoes. Packaged Saltine crackers accompanied.
But the sandwiches were forgettable.
I ordered what the menu termed a “Pretty Darn Good Reuben!” I found it pretty darn ordinary.
Four lean slices of corned beef were served on lightly grilled marbled-rye bread with a modest layer of sauerkraut and house-made, Russian-style dressing. But two slices of Swiss cheese, one inside each piece of bread, did not make the sandwich twice as good. In fact, they completely dominated the flavor of the Reuben.
I also placed a to-go order for “Takoda’s Buffalo Burger,” which I shortly delivered to a friend. Pressed by hand, the meat didn’t seem as substantial as the one-third pound advertised on the menu. The rounded patty, overcooked to medium well, was much smaller than the large undressed bun (no spread of any kind, not even mayo) in which it was served.
A few crumbles of bleu cheese — white cheddar was offered as an option — were melted on top. A garnish of leaf lettuce, red onions and sliced tomato was presented on the side. The best part of the meal, my friend said, were the seasoned pub fries served along with the burger.
As I waited for the take-out order, I savored a slice of warm cinnamon apple pie that was just like mom used to make. Now, you must realize that my mother was not the world’s best cook. But I did enjoy the baked apples and crust that was clearly homemade, not produced by a commercial bakery.
My regular dining companion and I had breakfasts at Takoda’s that were bland and forgettable.
Her eggs Benedict were served in a boat-shaped casserole dish, beside a modest serving of hash-brown potatoes. Two poached eggs, served atop English muffins with sliced ham, were cloaked in a thick and gooey hollandaise sauce that appeared to have been made with too much butter and not enough lemon juice. It rendered the serving relatively tasteless.
My three-egg “Spicy Scramble” was a veritable kitchen sink of ingredients, including Italian sausage and a generous amount of chopped, fresh, green bell pepper. It also included onions, potatoes, pepper-jack cheese and a dash of canned chipotle peppers, which together with the sausage should have provided the promised spice.
I was inclined to boost the piquancy with Tabasco sauce, however. Moreover, I missed the flavor that a dash of herbs could have brought to the scramble. A touch of thyme and/or parsley could have worked wonders.
The dish was accompanied by a choice of toast, and my sourdough was badly burnt. Neither was a side half-order of French toast the way I like it. I was intrigued by the promise of “vanilla cinnamon coated bread, sprinkled with powdered sugar.” Yet I tasted neither vanilla nor cinnamon, only the syrup that I poured to add moisture to a serving that had been grilled too long.
A heavy hand
The crowning culinary insult was a bloody mary that my companion ordered from the bar. The vodka-and-tomato juice drink was so overly spiced, she pushed it away after a single sip.
Gratefully, we were not charged for the drink — in part, no doubt, because we overheard a server validate my friend’s complaint. After the drink was removed from the table, we heard this comment from the back room: “It tastes like somebody dumped the whole pepper mill into the mix.”
Let me reiterate how much I hate to give Takoda’s a negative review. I owe Trey Harbick a personal thanks for restarting my truck’s battery with jumper cables, after I had left my lights on during my lunch at the restaurant. Other restaurant owners might have called a garage to do the job; Trey used his own car.
I want to see the Harbick cousins succeed in their new business. They have a lot going for them, not the least of which is their youth. Perhaps there’s a suggestion in this column that they can take to heart.
Takoda’s service is excellent, and the atmosphere, which could be tweaked to make it a bit more festive, is at least satisfactory.
But I find the kitchen heavy-handed in its approach, perhaps more concerned with speed of delivery than with the subtleties of flavor. There is work to be done.
Chef Dave Flier of Rockin’ Daves Bagel Bistro will offer a six-course dinner Monday night as part of the Collaborative Charity Dinner Series at 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar. A highlight of the 6 p.m. meal, which benefits Volunteer Connect, will be pecan-crusted pork tenderloin with sweet-potato cake. The cost, including beverage pairings, is $100 per person; seats are limited and reservations (541-385-8977) are essential. 821 N.W. Wall St., Bend; www.5fusion.com.
The Tortilleria Reyes, a fixture in a strip mall on Southeast Division Street in Bend, has announced plans to expand into the former Shanghai Garden Chinese restaurant on the north side of downtown. Owners Carlos and Martha Reyes and their son, JÚsus, plan to open their Michoacan-style El Rey Azteca restaurant by May 5. Open for lunch and dinner, the new restaurant is scheduled to offer live music for a Latino audience, according to Carlos Reyes. 541-383-2025, www.reyestortilleria.com.
A chocolate cake baked at the Broken Top Club won the top award at the Tower Theatre’s annual Tour du Chocolat event April 6. Chef Bill Ballard’s entry was honored as both the best tasting and best presented. Other awards went to a lavish wedding cake by La Magie Bakery (best showpiece) and to a pair of truffle makers: Fearless Baking (best technique) and Lidia’s Chocolates (most creative original theme).