The natural beauty, the genuine hospitality, the flavorful bounty — as this central Oregon resort’s Chef Adrian Carpenter points out, it’s no wonder the wagon trains headed this way.
You don’t come to Brasada Ranch to ski. Set in the high desert of Central Oregon at the foot of the Cascades, Brasada is a place you come to ride — mountain bikes on the many backcountry trails or horses at the fully equipped equestrian center. You come to swim in the heated saltwater pools or to get a massage and relax in the spa. You come to play tennis with mountain views or golf on the award-winning course that seamlessly blends greens into the rocky landscape. But more than anything, you should come to Brasada to eat.
Range, the resort’s premier restaurant helmed by chef Adrian Carpenter — formerly of Aspen’s Six89, Syzygy, and Montagna at The Little Nell — is a spectacular gem in a jaw-droppingly beautiful setting, worth the three-hour drive from Portland just for Carpenter’s locally sourced (mostly from his own garden) vegetable plate.
Vegetables, you ask skeptically? Yes, I answer. Emphatically.
Don’t get me wrong — you shouldn’t skip the house-made charcuterie or game bird trio, but it is the vegetables plucked from the Oregon soil and magically transformed by chef Adrian into the pure essence of the season that are the revelation here. Like Alain Passard has done at his three-Michelin-star L ’Arpège in Paris, Carpenter is making greens-to-root cuisine the new nose-to-tail.
Speaking of vegetables, the best place to start at Range is with a cucumber-infused artisan cocktail on the restaurant patio. The inside of Range is all rustic sophistication, but the real show is outdoors, where the only thing between you and one of the finest sunsets you’ll ever set eyes on is a whole lot of juniper and bitterbrush, and a low-slung string of snow-capped peaks. Note: Wear sunglasses or a cowboy hat — you’ll be dining facing due West.
I order the Sluice Gate; Adrian’s wife, Susan, wearing a pair of vintage boots from the Cowgirl Cash boutique in nearby Bend, stops by to let me know it will be a minute because one of the sous-chefs has to be dispatched to the garden to pluck some more cucumbers.
I sip the refreshing and clean-tasting drink as I watch several children toast chef Adrian’s homemade vanilla marshmallows on metal skewers over the fire pit. Combined with dark chocolate and house-made graham crackers, they make for some high-class s’mores.
The waiter returns shortly with the Butcher’s Board. It arrives looking like a painter’s palette, with rounds of the lightest venison sausage I’ve ever tasted, tissue-thin slices of jamón ibérico, scratched Tillamook cheddar crackers, daubs of apricot preserves and house-made chicken liver pâté, and brightly colored vegetables house-pickled at the height of spring freshness. Asparagus spears, tightly curled neon-green fiddlehead ferns, spring onions, and pink radishes the size of my fingertip each become worthy of exclamation, having been so respectfully, instinctively, and simply prepared.
Next comes the tender stinging nettle gnudi — ricotta dumplings, or “nude” ravioli without the pasta outerwear — served with red wine-braised local goat, porcini mushrooms, pancetta, and chèvre from nearby Tumalo Farms. The stinging nettle, which, like poison ivy, is hazardous to the touch, adds a bright green, peppery note when properly cooked.
Then the popular game bird trio arrives, made up of quail (stuffed with quinoa, medjool dates, and pistachios), pheasant consommé (with organic farro and a summer vegetable jardiniere), and duck breast (with fiddlehead ferns, sweet onion soubise, and rhubarb chutney). Complex and delicious.
But the real surprise at the table? The seasonal vegetable plate.
It is here that chef Adrian’s skills are at their most remarkable. Perfect cubes of roasted golden beets float on a river of red beet purée, which tastes incredibly rich and unctuous for something purely vegetable. Lightly steamed and dressed green and yellow wax beans exude early summer’s lingering sunshine. And the humble cauliflower, expertly pickled and outfitted in style with an edible cornflower, rises to new heights.
I lean back and let out a fully satisfied sigh. When the sun finally sinks behind the mountains and a chill sets in the desert air, I retire to my ground-floor suite and plant myself on the patio by the fire pit. I watch the stars come out, too satiated to speak.
For more information on the Brasada Ranch Resort and to make reservations, visit www.brasada.com.
From the July 2013 issue.