With the changing of seasons, I look forward to more daylight, getting back on my bike and the opening of Kokanee Café in Camp Sherman. Just last week, I rode my bike out to Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, grabbed a popsicle at the General Store on the Metolius River and basked in the late-afternoon sunlight. Later that evening, I met several friends at the Kokanee Cafe for dinner.
As we were led to our table, we noticed several changes and upgrades to the familiar space, including newly painted walls, new art on the walls, high-quality glassware and other changes. We were impressed by the brass-top bar, complete with beer on tap, premium liquor selections and a cocktail list. But thankfully, the chef hadn't changed. Chef Roscoe Roberson, two-time Central Oregon Iron Chef champion, was once again manning the stoves. Gilded with several bottles of good wine and friends that included two chefs (one, the former chef of Kokanee Café), a birthday girl, two all-pro servers/musicians and a couple of foodies, we held court in the covered patio.
The wine list featured a variety of Northwest wines including Bergstrom, Lange and J.K. Carriere from Oregon, along with other wines from Washington and California. The cocktail list included six classic and creative specialty drinks, ranging from a Perfect Manhattan ($8) to a cardamom-infused South Sister ($8).
The Beet Salad ($11) included generous medallions of roasted beet tossed in a subtle clove vinaigrette with candied pecans, breaded goat cheese and arugula. It was excellent. With a presentation unlike anything I'd seen before, the Caesar ($10) featured a blooming flower of well-dressed romaine in a Parmesan tuile with flavorful roasted tomatoes and adorable miniature croutons.
The Pork Belly ($9) was simply stunning. Cured, braised and slow roasted with a sweet glaze, a generous portion arrived perfectly scored, fatty and meaty, with watercress and coriander-apple marmalade. Packed with lots of fresh crab, sweet and lightly breaded, with a meyer lemon aioli, the Crab Cakes ($13) were classic. A simple garnish allowed the cakes to shine on their own.
Three of our seven diners ordered the rib-eye ($28). There was some debate over the demi-glace, with the former chef calling it slightly over-powering and bitter while the other diners disagreed. Regardless, the meat was perfectly cooked, topped with smoked blue cheese butter and a sublime tomato-thyme jam and served with garlic whipped potatoes.
Stewed in chamomile and dried apricots, the Lamb Shank ($21), was fall-off-the-bone tender. Without being too strong or pungent, the shank was herbal and sweet, familiar and exotic.
The Trout ($21) was voted best in show across the table. The fish was cooked in papillote, a paper envelope that allows the fish to steam and pick up aromatics, in this case, basil butter. A puttanesca sauce and creamy polenta accompanied the moist, basil-infused fish.
Chef Roscoe gives creative attention to traditional desserts. The Butterscotch Crème Brulee ($7) arrived with its hard, burnt sugar lid intact while the oversized Vanilla Bean Cupcake's ($7) pale pink frosting, silver pearls and moist, lemony cake easily pleased our group. The table was split on the Chocolate Mousse ($7). While we all enjoyed the intense chocolate, the texture divided us. Expecting a light, fluffy mousse, we were surprised that the consistency was more like a dense ganache or truffle.
Despite having opened for the season only a week before, my dining experience was thoroughly enjoyable and nearly perfect. I can't wait to see and taste what the rest of the summer holds for Kokanee Café.
New owner Peter Lowes, an avid fly fisherman and mountain biker, has added lunch to the menu starting June 1. Daily lunch will include open-faced sandwiches, specialty burgers, fish tacos and pad thai. General manager Amy Thompson wants to welcome the communities of Camp Sherman and Sisters to the Kokanee Café with Local's Night every Tuesday, featuring food and drink specials with a percentage of sales donated to local charities. Whether you're a fisherman, a biker or an avid outdoorsman, be sure to check out the Kokanee Café this year.
Before June 1: 5pm-close. June 1 - September 15: 11:30am - 10pm. September 15 - October 30: 5pm-close.