by LINDEN GROSS One Stop Writing Shop
Some meals, like some lovers or crushes, grab you right from the outset with their dynamism. Others are more subtle, exhibiting nuanced moderation that makes you want to know more. That’s exactly why so many locals from both Bend and Sisters return to Jen’s Garden month after month and year after year for its southern French-inspired cuisine.
As my two friends (neither of whom had been to Jen’s Garden) and I walked up to the restaurant’s front door, I had to restrain myself from knocking. As always, I felt like I was entering someone’s home. That impression continued when I walked in and saw the fireplace blazing. The Chanson Française playing in the background added to the homey yet elegant sense of comfort as we perused the menu at our table in the small alcove off the cottage’s intimate dining room.
Jen’s Garden offers a prix-fixe menu and paired wine flight that change every month. You can choose the three-course or the five-course prix-fixe, and then select various options from there. Naturally, my friends and I opted to sample just about every dish. We are, as it turns out, those kinds of girls. My friend who is gluten intolerant couldn’t indulge in absolutely everything, but almost since the restaurant cheerfully accommodates all kinds of food sensitivities.
We started by sharing the two first course offerings. The country paté managed to simultaneously be coarse and creamy, and was perfectly set off by two types of mustard, my favorite being the homemade and surprisingly airy Dijon. A hint of five-spice gave the accompanying pickled vegetables extra depth.
The Mediterranean Strudel of spinach, egg, brie, pine nuts and hollandaise packed in flaky puff pastry was decadently delicious but still light enough to allow all the separate flavors to shine through.
We moved on to the fish course—clear seafood chowder seasoned with saffron and an undertone of fennel. Three yellow new potato medallions shone through the tomato-based soupe de poisons (fish soup) broth like pennies in a fountain, while a crostini topped with Meyer lemon crème fraiche and baby fennel sprouts balanced on the rim of the bowl. Lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat.
When it came to the entrees, the only one we didn’t try was the Dungeness Crab and Shrimp Pasta Puttanesca, with fettuccine, garlic, capers, olives, tomatoes and oregano. Sigh. That still sounds delicious. But we did brilliantly with the three main dishes we shared.
The thick baseball cut of Grilled Beef Tenderloin in a truffle au jus was so tender that we instantly realized that this restaurant serves absolutely top-notch meats. It came with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and yummy smoky bacon Brussel sprouts.
As good as the steak was, the herb-crusted rack of lamb split in two and arched over velvety and subtly sweet root vegetable puree topped with crispy kale chips stole its thunder. “The rosemary au jus made with pan drippings is the bling on this dish,” said one of my friends. For me, however, it was all about the perfectly medium-rare lamb.
Then there was the quail stuffed with a duck confit cassoulet that reminded me of the cassoulet my mom used to cook, which is the highest praise I can give for this Southwestern French dish. Imagine tender white beans, duck and sausage slowly cooked in white wine until the flavors simply meld into each other. But stuffing all that bean goodness into a tiny quail that can easily be overcooked? You’ve got to be kidding. “This dish makes me happy. The stuffing is amazing,” announced one of my tablemates. “I’m a steak girl, but this quail is a definite re-order.”
We forged onward with a roasted beet salad tossed with candied hazelnuts, lightly dressed in a blood-orange vinaigrette and served with a small scoop of Boursin, a super creamy herb-and-garlic French cheese. I loved the chunky wedges of beets that allowed the earthy beet essence to really announce themselves instead of the more common super-thin-slice presentation.
We ended our meal by sharing the two dessert options: a cherry-hazelnut bread pudding served with a lavender crème anglaise that we all wanted to drink and Jen’s S’More Tart that was so rich and chocolaty that I definitely wanted some more. As throughout all the courses, the wine pairing—this time a slightly sparkly Orange Muscat—was right on the nose.
At the end of the meal, we tried to pinpoint what makes the cuisine at Jen’s Garden so special. We concluded that the seductiveness of the delicately-flavored food lies in earthy ingredients handled with such elegant restraint. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a lot of things.
403 East Hood Avenue, Sisters
Owners: TR and Jen McCrystal
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 5pm-close