All you really need to know about downtown Bend's “new" Jackalope Grill is that its chef-owner has branded it with his own name.
It is no longer merely the Jackalope Grill. It is now Tim Garling's Jackalope Grill.
Nearly seven years after moving to Bend from the tiny ski-resort village of Alta, Utah — where Garling and his wife, Kathy, operated the award-winning Shallow Shaft restaurant for almost two decades — he has a place that is truly his own.
“This is the culmination of everything that Tim and I have been working toward for 25 years," said Kathy Garling, tears welling in her eyes as she surveyed the elegant dining room, its curving lines and colorful art providing a graceful, contemporary appearance.
Located on the ground floor of downtown Bend's Putnam Pointe building, beneath the residences that abut the parking garage and next door to the Bend visitor center, the Jackalope opened in late June after months of design and construction.
It is no longer lodged in the obscurity of Scandia Plaza on South Division Street, a strip mall where it had stood since the Garlings bought it in November 2005 from Ramsey and Juli Hamdan, now the proprietors of Joolz. The Hamdans had dubbed it the Jackalope after buying the former Black Forest Restaurant from German chef Axel Hoch a few years earlier.
My dining companion and I enjoyed two superb meals here last week. They were as close to perfect as one is likely to find in Central Oregon. On these occasions, the friendly and sophisticated service, tasteful decor and Tim Garling's deft hand in the kitchen combined to place the Jackalope among Bend's limited crop of “go-to" fine-dining restaurants.
There's no jackalope on the menu — no one I know has actually seen anything but a stuffed specimen of the legendary animal said to resemble a large jackrabbit with the antlers of a pronghorn antelope — although Hoch's legacy is perpetuated in the pork-loin jaeger schnitzel that remains on Garling's permanent menu.
Otherwise, the former high-school chemistry teacher from Port Angeles, Wash., having long ago abandoned pipet and beaker in favor of French culinary training, created every other recipe in the laboratory he now calls a kitchen.
Such menu stanchions as filet mignon, Columbia River king salmon and cioppino-style seafood pasta are complemented by an ever-changing list of weekly specials.
It's not that the Jackalope had immediate smooth sailing upon opening its new location. Garling admits to having dismissed both his opening sous chef and head line cook when they had “differences of opinion." But he has now relaxed to a point where he feels he can take an occasional day off, as he did to observe his 64th birthday Sept. 18.
I was critical of some aspects of the old Jackalope, but I have little but praise for the new one.
When my companion and I arrived unannounced for dinner at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, we were shocked to find every table booked. And when we sat at the bar, we learned the restaurant had already sold out of two entree specials and one small plate.
But we had a comfortable meal, and both of our bar servers were equally knowledgeable about food and wine.
We shared a quartet of small plates. A salad of field greens was made from organic baby greens tossed with a champagne-and-pear vinaigrette that contributed a tangy flavor. Blue cheese crumbles, dried cranberries and crushed hazelnuts added flavor and texture.
The soup du jour was made with golden beets, pureed with cardamom for an exotic flavor. In the center of the bowl was a topping of fresh chanterelle mushrooms, stirred with a handful of house-made focaccia croutons and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. It was delicious.
Potato gnocchi was served with a creamy and delicious basil pesto sauce, pine nuts and a blend of shredded Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Gnocchi can sometimes be heavy or chalky, but Garling's was delightfully not so, pleasing our palates and leaving room for another course.
That dish featured five grilled prawns with lightly fried panisse, a cake of chick-pea (garbanzo) flour popular in southern France. It was served with a savory romesco sauce that perfectly complemented the panisse without overpowering the prawns.
Having learned our lesson, we made an early dinner reservation for the following evening. We were promptly greeted, seated and treated to white-tablecloth service — by attendants dressed head-to-toe in black — for the next two hours.
From our vantage point, it appeared there were four women working a dozen tables on this evening, with no more than three tables assigned to any one server. And although some of the tables were a bit tightly packed, their friendly efficiency enabled them to work perfectly together in taking and quickly delivering orders, all while enjoying a little conversational banter with patrons.
After starting with cocktails and fresh bread from the Sparrow Bakery, my companion and I again enjoyed a soup and salad to start.
On this occasion, the soup du jour was a rich butternut squash blend, drizzled with white truffle oil. Chanterelles and croutons again topped the concoction.
My Caprese salad was made with vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, freshly picked and shipped from the Yakima Valley. Shuffled with two modest slices of buffalo mozzarella cheese, they were drizzled with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil and served upon a bed of baby greens. I only wished there had been a little more fresh basil in this salad; only a limited amount of basil was presented, and that in small ribbons.
As a main course, my companion chose bacon-wrapped quail. Oven-roasted, it was stuffed with orzo pasta, toasted pine nuts, currants and fresh oregano. When I stole a taste, I found the bird overly smoky in flavor. But on a second taste, I dredged a bite of quail through an accompanying blush wine-based, flamed grape sauce, and I discovered that this pleasantly balanced the smokiness.
My entree choice was pan-seared Alaskan halibut cheeks, lightly breaded and presented on a generous portion of risotto. This creamy rice dish was blended with corn, peas and Meyer lemon, which lent a citrus flavor that was the perfect foil for the halibut. Only a dollop of flavored butter atop the fish failed to impress me; the menu promised the tastes of capers, basil and sun-dried tomatoes, and these didn't really come through.
Jackalope's wine list is nothing if not adventurous. The bottle list is one of the most extensive in the city, no doubt. But it was the limited by-the-glass list that caught our eye.
Even as it omitted some apparently obvious choices — there was no pinot gris by the glass, no zinfandel — it encouraged us to try some varietals that we might have otherwise have overlooked. And we were very pleased with a California gruner veltliner, a West Australian sauvignon blanc and even a delicious red blend from the former Soviet state of Georgia, now an independent nation.