Bend offers so many ways to indulge your culinary senses, paring down a list of the most special delicacies in these parts was no easy feat. Here are our favorite, and priciest, ways to live the good life through food in Central Oregon.
Leonardi Balsamic Vinegar, Newport Market: For deglazing, for dipping or for drizzling, vineger's versatility never ceases to surprise. I still remember the shiver I got the first time I tried 30 year old balsamic—it popped my eyes wide open with a concentrated sharpness then mellowing tanginess. Proof is in the price tag with this lovely liquid: at Newport Market, Leonardi 30-year balsamico goes for $180.
Oregon Truffle Oil, Newport Market and Navidi's: Just a dab will do ya when it comes to this potent, pungent oil infused with the wild-foraged truffle mushroom. Overpowering (and annoying) when applied with a heavy hand, this pricey finishing oil is penetrating and aromatic, lingering on your palate as you breathe out hints of it for hours. French black truffle-infused oil goes for $59.99 at Newport Market, but Navidi's Olive Oils and Vinegers downtown sells Oregon truffle oil for a much more Oregon price: two ounces for $14.
Moroccan or Spanish Saffron, Savory Spice Shop or Trader Joe's: Saffron first seduced me years ago in a rich cream sauce spooned over perfectly seared scallops. Hand picked stigmas of the crocus flower, the most expensive spice in the world imparts a golden yellow color and delicate hay-like sweetness, earning its contradictory reputation as a powerful nuance. Taste it yourself in the Spanish Paella at Barrio or with the Bouillabaisse at 900 Wall. Savory Spice Shop sells Moroccan saffron for over $14.95/gram ($400/ounce!), but a tiny portion of the less expensive Spanish saffron from Trader Joe's ($5.99) is an adequate alternative.
Champagne Flight, 10 Below: Oxford Hotel's 10 Below is easy to overlook, hidden on the lower level building. But take the elevator down—you'll find decadence in the details. Bacon "candy" instead of bits, chicken liver pate with Rogue River Blue and cave-aged gruyere cheeses (far superior to any force-fed foie gras I've ever tasted), and now this: three of my favorite sparkling wines in unison. Just $14 for the champagne flight, no special occasion needed. Veuve Clicquot is sandwiched in the ménage a trois, bookended with Moet Chandon and Perrier Jouet.
Firestone Walker 14th Anniversary Ale, The Brew Shop: When an ordinary pint won't do, go for the extraordinary—a 22 oz. beer that just gets better with age. The Brew Shop has a Firestone Walker 14th Anniversary Ale that's a blend of eight of that top-notch breweries best beers, including the Helldorado, the DDBA, Sticky Monkey, Parabola, Velvet Merkin, Good Foot, Bravo and the classic Double Jack. And it better be worthy for $24 a bottle!
An '82 Bordeaux, Good Drop Wine Shop: For a small town, we sure have a sweet selection of juice. My quest for the spendiest bottle in Bend ended at the Good Drop Wine Shop, where I found a $5,200 bottle of Bordeaux—an '82 Petrus. Grown at the highest altitude of the Pomerol region, this sought-after wine is famed for its hauntingly beautiful expression of 100% merlot grown in deep clay subsoils.
Burdeos Tequila, Hola! on the eastside: To me, there is no finer nectar than that of the agave plant. Gran Patron Burdeos, which means Bordeaux in Spanish, takes Anejo tequila to the next level. Finished off with a twelve-month aging session in barrels previously containing first-growth Bordeaux, this sensual sipping tequila can be found at Hola! on the eastside. But prepare for sticker shock: $85 gets you just one shot.
Kobe Steaks, The Brickhouse: You said Brickhouse's steaks were your favorite in our 2012 Best of Central Oregon contest. And Brickhouse's best is Snake River Farms Kobe beef. From the Wagyu breed of cattle, this Idaho-raised beef is raised without growth hormones on a slow-paced diet of barley, golden wheat, alfalfa and Idaho potatoes. Now available at the restaurant as New York strip or filet mignon, you can have your steak blackened, grilled, pepper-crusted or Oscar-style, which is steak topped with crab and Béarnaise. At $42 for the 6 oz. filet mignon, or $50 for the 10 oz. strip, Kobe beef is not cheap. But after just one bite you'll understand why.
Five Course Wine-Paired Dinner, Jen's Garden: Jen's Garden restaurant is easy to find, just off the main drag in Sisters. T.R. McCrystal and his wife, Jen, who is the pastry chef, offer a French-inspired, five course dining experience that is unparalleled in Central Oregon. The bonus? The in-house sommelier complements each course with a fitting glass of wine. The menu is also offered a la carte, but for $80 per person including wine, you'd be crazy not to go for the full five courses.
Chocolate Sack, Crossings at The Riverhouse: If you want dessert indulgence, there's really nothing like this thick dark chocolate shell shaped like a gift bag and filled with white and chocolate mousse. A pool of raspberry puree is spooned around the base of the "sack." If you can stop snickering at the name long enough to take a bite, you'll find this to be, hands down, the most decadent dessert in Central Oregon and all for just $12.95.