For many years, I got my hair cut at beauty schools. It was partly for the cost-savings, but also because I’m convinced that students with instructors breathing down their necks are driven to strive for perfection.
Following that same philosophy, I was delighted when I heard the concept behind Elevation. This student-operated restaurant at Central Oregon Community College’s Cascade Culinary Institute gives culinary pupils hands-on experience, while offering diners a chance to enjoy sustainable local cuisine with a farm-to-table emphasis.
Sign me up!
That’s no joke, actually, since reservations are crucial. Lunches and dinners are served prix fixe style and the dining area is often filled to capacity. $19 at lunchtime or $25 at dinner gets you a three-course meal that includes a scrumptious starter like soup or salad, an entrée, dessert, and a generous basket of fresh bread and herbed butter to kick things off.
A key focus at Elevation is on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. That goes beyond just buying from local farms and ranches, and extends to the excellent beer and wine menu featuring a plethora of Northwest offerings.
The menu changes frequently with the seasons and with the students’ learning curve. It would be cruel of me to gloat about the deliciousness of specific dishes, since odds are slim you’d find the same thing on the menu if you walked in tomorrow.
Just as an example though, you’ll find starters like lacinato kale with Cada Dia feta, toasted hazelnuts, and sour cherry vinaigrette. Entrées might include things like sous vide heritage pork loin with juniper, sage, spruce notes, rhubarb-shallot confit, fava beans, wheat berries, and spring onion pilaf.
Should we all pause here and breathe a collective sigh of yumminess?
The prix fixe arrangement means the menu is a bit limited, which is actually a good thing. It means the students are focused on perfecting the handful of dishes offered at a given time. You can count on four or five different selections for appetizers and salads, and a similar number of offerings for the entrée. Both the vegetarian and the gluten-intolerant diner in the Visit Bend party were able to find menu items that met their dietary needs.
Each time I’ve visited Elevation, I’ve been blown away by the bread with herbed butter. It’s such a simple thing, but scrumptious and very fresh.
I said I wouldn’t gloat about specific dishes, but feel compelled to share a piece of feedback from one of the Visit Bend staffers as an illustration of how hard these students work to achieve perfection. “My onion soufflé was delicious and unusual, presented on a plate that looked like a work of art,” she noted. “The soufflés were little clouds of flavor heightened by an onion jus.”
Quite an enthusiastic recommendation, no?
Admittedly, not everything is perfect at Elevation. These are students, after all, so a certain amount of slow service or skewed timing can be expected. What’s refreshing, though, is how they handle it. When appetizers arrived at sporadic intervals for the large Visit Bend party, the servers recognized the awkwardness of having the earliest-served diners eating in front of later-served colleagues. They quickly brought extra appetizers to make up for it. Win for everyone!
It’s no secret Bend is well-known for having oodles of great restaurants and terrific cuisine. What I love about Elevation is the opportunity to be part of the process of developing the next wave of young culinary professionals poised to keep the tradition going.
You can make a reservation online, or call 1.877.541.CHEF to book directly with the restaurant. They also offer private dining options for special parties. Keep in mind, beverages aren’t included with the prix fixe price, so budget a little extra for that.
And save me a bite of dessert, will you? That’s the best part.