If you’re a seafood lover like me — if you can’t get enough of the ocean’s bounty, from Copper River salmon to Dungeness crab to Willapa Bay oysters — you may sometimes feel frustrated to live hours from the Pacific shoreline.
It’s true that the restaurants of Bend and Deschutes County don’t often get fish pulled directly from the salty brine. But many chefs design menus that take advantage of direct flights and refrigerated trucks, brining fresh seafood to Central Oregon several times a week.
Following is a short personal list of my favorite seafood dishes at Central Oregon restaurants, in no particular order.
Oolong tea-glazed sea bass ($18) at 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar. The sweet, tender white fish, served on fettuccine-style egg noodles tossed with lemon butter, virtually melted in my mouth. It is presented with a medley of seasonal vegetables, which on my most recent visit included carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, red onions and potatoes. 821 N.W. Wall St., Bend; 541-323-2328, www.bend5spice.com
Camarones al tequila ($19) at Hola! Wild-caught prawns are wrapped in banana leaves with sliced bananas, red onions and Portobello mushrooms, then baked with chipotle chilies for spice and a splash of reposado tequila for flavor. I also love Hola’s Peruvian ceviche traditional ($12), made with halibut or tuna marinated in citrus juices and served with aji amarillo (yellow chilies), sweet yams, a Creole salsa and dried corn kernels. The Shops at the Old Mill District, Bend, 541-647-2711; N.E. 27th Ave. and Highway 20 E., Bend, 389-4652; www.holabend.com
Blackened redfish ($25) at Zydeco Kitchen+Cocktails. Rubbed with Steve Helt’s signature cayenne-pepper spice blend, the snapper (or catfish) is pan-fried in butter and served on a bed of sautéed spinach with Dungeness crab meat. Zydeco’s plump barbecued shrimp ($11) is also memorable, served on grit cake with a savory sauce. 919 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 541-312-2899, www.zydecokitchen.com
Crab cakes and green bean sauté ($17.95) at Bourbon Street Sea & Soul Food. Three thick cakes of crab meat, blended with onions and peppers, are lightly breaded with Japanese panko crumbs seasoned with garlic, lemon and tarragon. They are served on a creative clam chowder — with potatoes, onions, bacon, corn, black-eyed peas and a dash of chili oil — and topped with a half-dozen long green beans. 5 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-323-2833, www.bourbonstreetbend.com
Thai fish soup ($6 and $8) at High Tides Seafood Grill. There are eight excellent soups and chowders on the menu of Bend’s best seafood restaurant, but none compares to this one. Halibut is the main ingredient in a spicy broth of curry, lemongrass, basil and coconut milk. The concoction also has sliced red onions, carrots and tomatoes. 1045 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 541-389-5244, www.hightidesseafoodgrill.com
Calamari ($10) at the Black Butte Ranch Lodge Dining Room. This is not the heavily breaded and deep fried variety so often served at other restaurants. Here, strips of mature squid are lightly battered in a garbanzo flour, flash-fried, drizzled with a cilantro pesto and served without a hint of grease on a bed of fresh arugula. A sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce of mango and chipotle is the finishing touch. 12930 Hawks Beard, Black Butte Ranch; 541-595-1260, www.blackbutteranch.com/dining/
Ahi poke ($17) at Kanpai Sushi and Sake Bar. Other area chefs have attempted this raw fish dish, but none as successfully as Kanpai’s Justin Cook. Coarsely chopped yellowfin tuna is marinated in sesame oil and citrus-based ponzu sauce; tossed with scallions, avocado and wakame seaweed; and served with wonton chips. Cook also serves seared diver scallops ($14) with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a ginger cream sauce. 990 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend; 541-388-4636, www.kanpai-bend.com