I want to tell you about Sisters' newest best restaurant — The Porch.
Surprised? So was I.
Caryl Hosler, formerly of Jen's Garden and Thyme, opened the restaurant in late June with her son, Jon Hosler.
While Caryl was working as the sous chef under T.R. McCrystal at Jen's, Jon was plying the same trade in Southern California, both in restaurants and in catering for the film industry. Now mother and son are in business together, cooking and co-managing a wonderful little dinner house three blocks off the main drag in Sisters.
The Porch occupies a late '40s bungalow on Elm Street, north of the old Sisters Hotel. An eclectic and frequently changing menu of gourmet comfort food is served in a serene atmosphere reminiscent of a private home — which, not coincidentally, is exactly what this once was.
Original paintings by local artists hang on robin's-egg-blue walls straight out of Martha Stewart Living. Large windows and a bamboo screen, suspended from the ceiling of the main dining room (there are three), help to bring an element of the outside into the restaurant — especially in autumn, when chilly weather makes patio seating impractical.
Service on both visits that I made with my dining companion was prompt and professional. Orders were confirmed and quickly delivered, and servers were attentive without being intrusive. They knew the wine list as well as the menu and were able to make appropriate suggestions to match tastes.
The only slight exception to the rule was on our second visit, when a hostess's flamboyant personality struck us as a little out of place in such a low-key establishment.
Salads and an entree
The food was invariably fresh and flavorful, starting with the salads (misspelled “ruffage" on the menu).
The Porch's version of a Caesar salad was served with mandarin oranges, whose sweetness balanced the touch of anchovy paste in the creamy dressing. Shredded Parmesan cheese and a peppery crouton finished this delightful dish.
In another salad, sliced pear and goat-cheese crumbles were served atop mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette and candied pecans. Those nuts were a change from the pistachios that the menu had promised, but one complemented the pear as well as the other might have.
When I ordered lemon-pepper calamari, I didn't realize that this was also a salad. The menu had said only that it came with arugula pesto. But I was presented a plate of lightly breaded and fried squid steak, sliced and tender, upon a bed of greens with slices of tomato. Although I had frankly anticipated a finger-food appetizer, I did enjoy the dish.
The Porch limits its entree listing to two or three selections it called “All Mine" plates. On our pair of visits we ordered just one, but I was glad to call it all mine.
Lamb shank, lean and so tender that it was falling off the bone, was braised in a red-wine reduction sauce. It was served with a hearty helping of saffron risotto, coarse and cheesy like a corn polenta. Crushed fresh mint leaves balanced the flavor of the lamb.
The biggest part of The Porch's menu is devoted to plates “For the Table to Share" — in other words, tapas. On our two visits, we sampled several dishes and enjoyed every one.
Sweet potato and brown rice pancakes may have been our favorite. Prepared in a similar manner to crab cakes, but entirely vegetarian, these baked cakes were mixed with savory sage and sweet, moist cranberries, and served on a bed of peppery arugula.
We also loved the ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, cooked just past al dente so that it still had a suggestion of chewiness. It was finished with melted sage butter and a red-wine drizzle.
A Thai-style, coconut-milk green-curry dish — large shrimp with crushed peanuts and a medley of vegetables (mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash and pea pods) — was presented atop brown basmati rice.
Sisters' answer to the very English shepherd's pie came with minced lamb and bison meat, cooked with carrots and celery in Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter beer. Mildly spicy, the meat mixture was served as a casserole topped with mashed potatoes and gravy. I haven't had a better shepherd's pie in Central Oregon.
Jon Hosler said that he and his mother had long discussed opening a restaurant together. “It's been a dream of both of us," he said, “and we're very passionate about it."
Now 31, Jon said he had lived in the Los Angeles area since he was 18, except for one four-month stretch in summer 2005 when he assisted Caryl in the Restaurant at Suttle Lake. In the meantime, he said, he worked for a wide range of independently owned and franchise restaurants, as well as for Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach.
“I've had great training," he said. “I've learned a lot. But it's awesome to now share a relationship with my mother on a professional level and also a deeper level."
The Hoslers began making plans for The Porch in October 2011, he said. Jon returned to Oregon in January, and the restaurant opened July 6. “We're doing really well," Jon said. “The locals love us."
Another of Caryl Hosler's sons, David Elliott, is also employed at The Porch, assisting in the kitchen and in maintenance of the building.
Prineville's popular Dawg House restaurant has expanded to Redmond with the new Dawg House II. Both fast-food establishments have a following for their hot dogs and hamburgers; the Prineville location also serves breakfasts, and Redmond may follow suit. 811 N. Main St., Prineville; 541-447-2878; 551 N.W. Antler Ave., Redmond; 541-526-5989. www.facebook.com.