After living in the South of France in a small farming community for 10 years, Philip and Judy Lipton returned to the States to settle in Central Oregon. Realizing no one was doing French cuisine in Bend, they wanted to create the kind of neighborhood bistro they frequented when they lived in France. Southern French cuisine is a bit different than the expensive, fussy haute cuisine you find in Paris. It's simple, seasonal and satisfying.
The Liptons opened their bistro, French Market, in May 2017, in the old Riverside Market building on Bend's west side. They remodeled the interior with rustic elegance, giving the walls a warm, coppery sheen with exposed red brick peeking through in a few places. Lace curtains hang in the windows. The table settings are pretty without feeling pretentious.
Glass-doored refrigerators line the north wall of the restaurant with sodas, beer, cider and wine. You can come in for some grab and go beverages, cheese and charcuterie—but chances are you'll want to stay a while. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner five days a week.
Chefs Come and Go
Since opening 10 months ago the French Market has seen some changes—no longer having its Michelin star chef, for one. Judy Lipton says the previous chef was wonderful, but his Mediterranean style didn't fit with the couple's vision of serving uncomplicated French food. In January, they hired Jose Ramirez, a young chef who grew up in Northern California. Chef Ramirez previously worked in Florida at Le Cellier Steakhouse, a fine dining restaurant at Disney World. Ramirez says while he was in Florida he was intrigued with the Pacific Northwest food scene and yearned to be closer to his family in California. Today, he's taking on the challenge of running a new(ish) restaurant with gusto.
"When I took the position at French Market I was looking for a mentor," Ramirez told me. "I felt like I had a lot to learn, but I stepped up and gained confidence. I would like to take comfort food to fine dining."
When I was in the kitchen watching Ramirez cook an order of mussels and fries—one of the most popular dishes in France—I could see him giving this humble dish the attention to detail you find in fine dining, using tweezers to artfully arrange the mussels on the plate before wiping the rim of the bowl clean.
A Simple French Dinner
For dinner, my partner and I started with Alsatian fondue made with Wild Ride beer. We sipped glasses of Burgundy while we dipped grilled bread into the bowl of indulgent creamy cheese. The fondue was delicious, and I regretted saying I'd share.
Next, we tried some of the Prohibition-inspired cocktails. I ordered a Phil's Old Fashioned made with Bushmills whiskey and orange bitters. It was served in a stemless martini glass floating in a glass bowl of ice. I love whiskey, so this cocktail was perfect. My partner ordered the Se Decendre—French for relax, made with a mix of fresh juices with whiskey and gin. One of these and you'll definitely loosen up fast because it's so easy to drink.
We had a hard time choosing entrées. The steak with Béarnaise sauce and fries sounded delightful but so did everything else. We asked Ramirez to serve us whatever he wanted and we weren't disappointed. My partner had the chicken roulade topped with Mornay sauce—that's a béchamel sauce with grated Gruyere cheese—and a side of vegetarian risotto. The chicken was tender and the sauce luscious. Ramirez served me a bowl of creamy pasta with shrimp garnished with the bright green stems of scallions. This dish wasn't on the menu, but it should be. The pasta was lightly coated in an herby sauce and the delicate sweet shrimp was the star.
To end our meal, we ordered profiteroles with house-made fudge sauce and torta de Santiago, a ground almond cake. We paired both of them with glasses of dessert wine. The desserts, made by Judy Lipton, were straightforward, not overly sweet, but satisfying—like the entire meal.