Bend's dining scene has two faces - there's New Bend, where the recent proliferation of haute cuisine has upstaged good old-fashioned cooking, and then there's Old Bend, where large portions, non-eyebrow-raising prices and straightforward preparations predominate.Kayo Oakley is on a mission to bring back old-school dining in Bend and he may be the most qualified man to do so. Oakley, formerly of Kayo's Dinner House, Kayo's Roadhouse and Kayo's Sports Bar, may be the most prolific restaurateur in Bend's history - and he's not done yet. He recently resurrected his namesake Dinner House in the old Rustic River location on 3rd Street.
"I opened the original dinner house on Powers Road during our last recession in '81, with the idea that we would give people a nice place to eat at a fair price."
The original Dinner House was Old Bend's go-to place for weddings, anniversaries and special gatherings. The new Dinner House has the same Old Bend feel - and many of the same customers and staff. The menu, too, has remained mostly the same.
I first visited Kayo's Dinner House for their happy hour in the lounge where leather chairs and black-linened tables line the floor and a long bar runs the length of the room.
Kayo's Dinner House may have one of the best happy hour deals in town. Drinks range from $2.75 to $4 and food items are $1.95 to $4.95. I chose the Seared Ahi ($4.95) and the Spicy Chicken Wings ($3.95).
The Ahi was fresh and served with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce and was a no-frills approach to seared tuna. The chicken wings were fried and coated in a lightly sweet and spicy buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dressing, carrots and celery. For the price, this was some of the best bar food I've had in a while.
In the dining room, Oakley updated the carpets, décor and lighting. However, one could walk in and think that the Dinner House had been there for fifty years. It's comfortable, understated and very Old Bend.
Oakley hasn't messed with the menu that served him so well over the years, but he hasn't lowered his standards either. Oakley orders the freshest fish from around the world, including oysters, jumbo prawns, crawfish, halibut, and if you want, Maine lobster. He also uses all-natural beef and poultry.
The oysters ($12.95/half dozen), which, on the day I visited, were from the Oregon and California Coasts - were fresh, sweet and briny, and served with horseradish and house-made cocktail sauce. I also sampled the Dungeness crab legs, which were perfectly cooked portions of thigh meat served cold with the same cocktail sauce.
For dinner, I chose the Halibut Parmesan ($21.95), which has been a customer favorite since the first Dinner House opened. My companion ordered the Steak David (on special for $19.95) - medallions of tenderloin topped with crab, asparagus and béarnaise.
With these dishes, Oakley sticks to his strength - straightforward food and large portions. The fish was crunchy outside, flaky inside, and the beef was well cooked and rested. Each entrée comes with a starch and salad or soup, and bread with a smoked salmon mousse.
Wines by the glass are well priced at $5, and bottles range from $15 to $38. Deserts are all house-made and served in heaping portions for $4.50 to $6.
While I have patronized and been impressed by many New Bend restaurants, I have to say, Kayo's Dinner House is slowly making me an Old Bend convert. While I enjoy fusion foods and creative approaches to classic dishes, I also love well-executed, straightforward foods. More than that, I love getting a multi-course fine-dining meal with attentive, old-school service for less than I would pay for an entrée at some of New Bend's restaurants.
Kayo's Dinner House has successfully resurrected Old Bend. Without sacrificing quality, Kayo's delivers affordable fine dining that all of Bend, whether Old or New, will enjoy.
Kayo's Dinner House
415 Northeast 3rd Street
Dinner daily 5:30pm - close,
Happy Hour 3pm-6:30pm, 8:30-close