23 Feb A review of Washington Dining & Cocktails
If brewpubs are Bend’s bread and butter, then Washington is Bend’s jambalaya. Like the Southern dish that pairs rice with a panoply of meats, Washington in Bend’s NorthWest Crossing offers a culinary assortment that’s hard to pin down, but not hard to put down. While Washington’s menu isn’t large (always a plus in my book), regular members of my dining team (known proverbially as “Fat Tony’s Dining Crew”) failed to find a common thread. Still, they appreciated its variety. Into seafood? Try the oysters and shrimp from the raw bar. Ever wanted to try that family-style, everybody-shares-a-big-dish thing? They’ve got a spaghetti or a spare ribs dish with enough nibbles for a crowd. Don’t see a salad you like? Design your own. Health crazed? Try the pickled and raw vegetables in herbed yogurt dip. (Yep, they’ve got that, too.)
If you’re not enthusiastic about the yogurt dip, try the meatloaf. Washington joins pig and buffalo in unholy, breaded union to form a bacon-crusted bison meatloaf. It’s easily Washington’s pièce de résistance (soon to be renamed, by popular demand of course, the pigaloaf). This large portion of bison meat is flecked by thick slices of salted bacon and slathered in a dark, piquant barbecue sauce. Pure bliss.
When you’re ready to indulge, Washington is hard to miss. In a sea of dark brown NorthWest Crossing storefronts, the big televisions that hang over the bar in
Washington’s outdoor patio light up westside Bend’s nighttime sky. Beneath the bright lights are a full-service bar and wide-open spaces for watching the game or lounging with friends. Inside, the space combines walls of bold teals and whites with dark and light woods. (The tabletops are actually recovered wood from a bowling lane in Michigan; look for the dots.) And at the bar, the solid white countertop glows pink under a neon sign announcing, “Liquid Therapy here.”
The therapy menu gives a hint about Washington’s origins. Those who know Drake in Bend’s downtown will likely recognize the menu. That’s because, after Drake, Washington is owner Ted Swigert’s second Bend restaurant venture. The drinks aren’t the only thing that carry over. Like Drake, Washington serves a small sack of popcorn as guests arrive. “The choice of popcorn is and always has been a strange choice for a pre-dinner meal,” says Bend resident Steve Ivers after his first visit to Washington.
After two visits, though, some primal compulsion did lead me to munch on that little bag like a squirrel at a bird feeder, and, like Steve, I’m not sold on it. Popcorn may work for Drake, but Washington is bold, trendy and eccentric—unlike popcorn.
Regardless, Washington provides an experience that demands repeat visits and promises new, perhaps unfamiliar, adventures. For instance, Washington’s already excellent, hand-cut fries can be ordered “zombie style,” Washington-speak for a poutine that features thick, soft slices of brisket in a dark gravy. Another unique dish is the griddled sweet corn pancakes, an assortment of savory, cookie-sized cakes, fried (and almost candied) at the bottom and topped with a pungent soft cheese and pickled mushrooms. The combination of tastes and textures is just one of the hidden treasures of the Washington menu.
While the drinks menu features several infused spirits (one sees the infusions dotting the restaurant in large, colorful mason jars), none stands out more than the duck fat sazerac, a Jim Beam Rye infused with, yes, duck fat (which is later strained out), and then intermingled with absinthe, bitters and lemon in order to produce a smoky, sweet-scented blend that one of the Fat Tony crew described as “a smooth, fragrant blend of rye whiskey minus the spicy, peppered bite.”
Being a new restaurant, there are inevitable hiccups. Online reviewers have complained of undercooked food, long wait times and the alcohol prices. On my first visit to Washington, two of my dishes were less desirable. On my second visit, the first dish was better and the second was no longer on the menu. To me, that’s progress, and it indicates an establishment that listens and responds to its customers.
To compete against Bend’s bread and butter, you’ve got to go big, and you’ve got to be willing to go where others won’t go. Washington’s quirkiness isn’t hard to get into, because there’s something for every palate. Swigert describes his mantra as, “Outstanding. Cause that’s how we operate.” In my experience, he’s right, but whether a fickle market like Bend’s will buy into a Washington jambalaya (it’s not on the menu—yet) remains to be seen.