I wrote about restaurants and food for many years. I went to culinary school to be a better writer -- to write about food with more authority.
Really, I'm a cook because I wanted to be a better food writer.
But, as a food critic for some ten years, I'd eaten so many things-- so many good things-- that meals out rarely stand out. Sure, I love damn near every thing I eat because I love food, but it rarely surprises me.
Bummer because I love surprises.
But Hell yes! I ate in Bend and.... surprised I was.
I went to Central Oregon (high desert country) for a strategic planning meeting. Usually I travel with Belmont, and lately I do things with the Manfriend Spike. This time I traveled alone.
Usually I eat pub food or pizza. Nothing special.
Because Bend is not a dining hot spot. Or is it?
Tonight I went to Boken, an Izakaya (Japanese pub) joint in 'the breezeway off Wall street in downtown Bend.
Really, it was one of the most delicious and flavorfully challenging meals I've eaten in ages. The flavors, textures, preparations were all intense and incredible.
So, what did I eat?
I had skewers of squid, so tender and juicy the bits could be cut with a chopstick.
Mussels in a dynamite sauce (spicy aioli), again lovely and unctuous to boot.
I really liked the Mount Fuji roll; seared scallop, cucumber, avocado, cilantro, Thai chilies and an apple puree (like a silky apple sauce).
My absolute favorite was the steamed bun with a slab of pork belly, kimchi, and slices of cucumber. Amazing -- the way the slippery softness of the belly contrasted with the sour kimchi. Fabulous and so perfectly balanced.
I don't want to diminish or trivialize the cuisine by calling it "pan Asian" but ... well ... They also serve banh mi sandwiches and sushi.
So. Go to Bend. Eat at Boken. Please.