Ghost Tree’s “Dinner on the Range”

Lisa and Davis Smith are served grilled yellowfin tuna on a crispy potato waffle by Corey Donovan and Amy Christiansen of Tart Bistro.

Put 18 fine local restaurants together in one food festival … and what do you get?  The feast of the year in Central Oregon.

Dinner on the Range, at the fifth annual Ghost Tree Invitational, drew more than 1,200 people to the Pronghorn Club yesterday on an unseasonably chilly afternoon and evening. But good food, drink and company provided plenty of warmth to the meadow between the Jack Nicklaus and Ernie Fazio links.

Steak in several guises was the “flavor of the day.” No fewer than a half-dozen participating restaurants (The Blacksmith, Brickhouse, Crossings at the Riverhouse, 5 Fusion, Pine Tavern and Pronghorn) served filet mignon, flank steak or beef tenderloin, and even little Pisano’s Pizza presented a white pizza topped with Kobe beef and caramelized onions.

900 Wall's pork pate

Chef Cliff Eslinger of 900 Wall bucked the trend, serving a country-style Berkshire pork pate with a jam-like rhubarb mustarda, pickled onions and a cornichon. Eslinger is well-known for his charcuterie, and this was a great appetizer.

Chef David Hatfield of Cafe 3456 presented delicate squash blossoms cooked with Juniper Farms chevre cheese and a crunch of the bacon that Hatfield himself produces. They were a huge hit.

The culinary team from Brand 33, the fine-dining restaurant at the Aspen Lakes Golf Club near Sisters, won new fans with its skewered giant prawn, stuffed with crab, wrapped in bacon and dressed with truffle oil.

Brand 33's skewered prawn

Chef Gavin McMichael of Bourbon Street came prepared for the temperatures, ladling out scoops of spicy jambalaya mixed with andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp.

Latin favorites Hola! and La Rosa went the seafood route. Hola! served grilled shrimp lollipops topped with a sweet yam and Peruvian chili salsa. La Rosa presented a pan-seared, achiote-seasoned scallop in a roasted red-pepper sauce.

The best dessert, in my opinion, was one of a trio offered by 10 Below at the Oxford Hotel: a chocolate mousse cake with praline crisp and hazelnut meringue.

Cake from 10 Under

I missed seeing many of my favorite local restaurants. Where were Joolz, Trattoria Sbandati, Zydeco, Ariana, Kanpai and the Jackalope Grill, all from Bend? Where were the Sisters-area contingent of Jen’s Garden, Black Butte Ranch and the Kokanee Cafe?  Hopefully, all were invited.

If I might make one suggestion for future events, it would be to have each chef submit three dinner options to a screening panel, whose responsibility it would be to assure a wider range of dishes. There were no true salads and precious few vegetarian plates at this year’s event, and far too many steaks.

I heard few complaints, however. Everyone seemed to have a great time … myself included.

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