(Photo courtesy of French Market)
My food posse and I settled into our bar-height table from which we could peer into the French Market kitchen as well as around the restaurant that feels casual and yet special all at the same time.
“Okay, let’s come up with a game plan,” I said as we peered at the farm-to-table menu.
My friends began rattling off possible starters for us to share. Within two minutes, they had named just about every small plate on the menu. They all sounded divine.
We would discover that the French Market’s dishes all look—and taste—as good as they sound.
The Belgian Endive salad with fresh crab that tasted like we were at the ocean, grapefruit and fines herbs, all tossed with crème fraiche, set the tone for the evening. Somehow the dish managed to be bright, delicate and creamy all at the same time. “It’s a win,” one of my friends announced, commenting both on the flavors and the lovely presentation.
Small plates that looked like works of art kept coming. Small pieces of lobster alternated with roasted red grapes on a bed of crème fraiche (can’t get enough of that!) disappeared from view when our server poured the sweet potato soup from a white pitcher into the bowl. The dish—labeled as a “don’t miss” by our server—proved another play on light creaminess, as well as on savory and sweet. The food posse’s commentary tells you everything else you need to know.
“Oh. Oh wow!”
“Lordy, lordy. I want a bucket of that!”
Slow-smoked pork belly with lobster claw and slices of pumpkin served over a chocolate-brown mole sauce that had been brushed onto the plate was as beautiful a dish as I ever need to be served. And there’s just nothing like marrying salty goodness with sweet, fresh seafood. Another definite don’t-miss.
The hits kept coming:
Little Neck Clams with cold-smoked bacon, shallots, slices of garlic and a scrumptious broth that we soaked up with our lightly-charred garlic bread.
Duck confit wrapped up like an eggroll with brown butter, fennel, orange, parsnip puree and almond, served with a lovely salad of fennel fronds, micro-greens and blood orange.
And the most decadently, rich foie gras torchon you can get this side of France.
With France in mind, my friends and I lusted after the listing of charcuterie and cheese, resolving to make that the focus upon our return. Then we turned our attention to the entrées.
The raclette pizza with toasted garlic, roasted mushrooms and pork belly featured a doughy rather than thin, fire-roasted crust. I still prefer the latter, but the other three at the table disagreed. And, of course, it’s impossible to go wrong with melted raclette cheese.
The rigatoni showcased fresh, al dente pasta, pork shoulder confit, roasted mushrooms in a béchamel sauce. As we savored our dish, co-owner Judy Lipton stopped by our table.
“This food is made with passion and love,” she said.
Nowhere was that more obvious than with the heavenly, fork-tender short ribs served with a dumpling, roasted slices of parsnip and topped with strips of crispy deep-fried parsnip, wilted chard and, yes, crème fraiche.
Executive chef Luke Mason, who worked in San Francisco’s Aziza (a one Michelin-star restaurant) before moving to Bend, clearly knows his stuff. And owners Philip and Judy Lipton recognize that they simply need to give him full creative license to do his arty, farm-to-table food thing. The resulting American translation of French bistro cuisine is downright inspiring, with each ingredient singing its own solo while still working as a whole.
“This food is like a gift you unwrap,” said my friend Jill.
“I’d have every one of these dishes again,” Leah agreed.
By next time, however, the menu will likely have changed, so we’ll embark on a whole new excellent eating adventure. Hmmm. I wonder what everyone is doing next Sunday.
285 NW Riverside Blvd, Bend
Owners: Judy and Philip Lipton
Open Wednesday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.