When 28 closed this spring, I shared the sentiments of friends who'd felt broken up with and betrayed. How could one of the best spots to grab a martini and a flatbread pizza be sold out from under a group of loyal patrons? Left to find another hip night spot, I was in a daze.
Fitting in someplace else proved difficult. Astro has martinis but the atmosphere is different. 900 Wall has a slightly older crowd and Amalia's seems to cater to a younger crowd. It felt like an effort for me to fit in elsewhere and a series from Blockbuster with a bag of popcorn began to seem more my speed. Just as I was about to give in to another season of United States of Tara, Tart Bistro announced their opening in the old 28 location. Instantly intrigued, I waited for what couldn't have come soon enough (and really did emerge as if overnight), the opening of Tart, with its promise of a French-based, globally inspired eatery and libation destination.
Decidedly different from 28 while still catering to a similar late night drinking and dining crowd, Tart Bistro picks up where 28 left off. Corey Donovan and Amy Christensen are the husband-and-wife team behind the latest fusion spot in Bend - this one of French countryside and Pacific Northwest cuisine. The décor is fun, the servers are friendly. The centerpiece of 28, the beautiful custom bar, remained intact - a welcome home for me after a month in limbo. I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped the food would be good. After a hit-and-miss lunch, a recent dinner won me over with food, atmosphere and service.
At lunch, the menu impressed me. I was excited to try everything, though my stomach could only handle so much. Even before eating, I resolved to return for dinner the following week. But the service at lunch felt a little too formal and rehearsed. I had planned to enjoy a bottle of wine leisurely with a friend and felt rushed throughout the meal. Service at dinner was far better, which led me to believe that lunch was a fluke.
Lunch almost began with a bottle of Louis Pedrer Brut Rosé ($6/21) that wasn't available, so the server upgraded us to a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Rosé champagne for the same price. My friend and I shared the watermelon and arugula salad ($8.50) and the French lunch ($9.50). The salad was tossed with baby arugula and shredded manchego cheese and finished with a citrus vinaigrette. I expected a crumbled cheese instead of shredded, but it worked. The arugula added a spicy element, but the dish never quite came together. On a later visit, the mesclun salad proved both delicious and harder to share.
The French lunch wet my appetite for dinner a few days later. Comprised of simple, French ingredients like flat-iron steak, crispy fatty bacon, caramelized onions and fingerling potatoes. This traditional French countryside fare hit the spot. The elements came together seamlessly and it was one of those times when I layered pieces of everything on my fork with each new bite. The steak was well seasoned, cooked properly and perfectly paired with creamy fingerling potatoes, bacon and onions.
A week later, I sat down for dinner on the patio with some friends. We started with The Board, the chef's selection of artisan cured meats, cheeses and fruits served with preserves and baguette ($12) and thinly sliced sable fish carpaccio layered with cantaloupe paper and drizzled with ginger and lime purée ($10). While The Board hit French countryside on the head, the carpaccio's delicate flavors showcased the twist on French cuisine intended by the owners. The Board was beautifully presented with several complementary options; the delicate flavors of cantaloupe and ginger balanced the lightly smoked fish. Next came the Dungeness Crab Salad tossed with lime, roasted jalapeño and avocado, served atop a thick-sliced heirloom tomato ($12.50) and the heavenly Mesclun de Provence, organic young field greens with peaches, toasted almonds, radishes, and chèvre, tossed in blood-orange vinaigrette ($8.50). Creamy chevre matched the crunch and flavor of the radishes and almonds. The seasonal peaches added something sweet.
After enjoying these smaller plates, the Salmon with Angry Vodka Sauce entrée was the only disappointment ($21). I was expecting something a little more substantial and classic countryside - what I've come to know as good French food. Although it was a nice piece of salmon, the fish was overcooked. The fingerling potato coins seemed more suited for lunch than dinner and their natural creaminess was lost in this preparation. The angry vodka sauce was a play on words that eluded me.
For the most part, the menu is traditional when it should be and appropriately playful, injecting traditional French countryside fare with a dose of Pacific Northwest cuisine. I'm fairly confident that Tart Bistro will ripen with time, bearing the fruits of its labor and love of French cuisine. There's a good chance that, like me, other 28 enthusiasts will find a soft landing at Tart.
920 Northwest Bond Street
Mon-Thu, 11:30am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-1am; Sun 4:30pm-11pm