Merenda Restaurant and Wine Bar

Merenda Restaurant and Wine Bar – On the Menu

Alan J. Liddle

Bend, Ore.

With an average of 10 flights daily, Jody and Michelle Denton’s Merenda Restaurant and Wine Bar sounds more like an airport than a country French and Italian dining destination in the growing resort community of Bend, Ore.

The flights at Merenda are tied to the wine world practice of serving four 2-ounce tastes of wines with a similar characteristic, such as a common varietal grape, appellation or winemaker. They often sell for between $9 and $16.

Restaurants offering flights on a regular basis are not common and those serving 10 a day in the United States probably can be counted on one hand. But that’s the nature of the Dentons’ 190-seat restaurant, which offers more than 100 wines by the glass and garners a full 43 percent of total sales from the bar overseen by sommelier and general manager Michael Denton, Jody’s brother.

Jody Denton previously was executive chef and chief operating officer of the popular San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, Restaurant LuLu and Azie in San Francisco and Zibibbo in Palo Alto, Calif. In the past he has worked with well-known chef-restaurateurs Dean Fearing, Rich Melman, Mark Miller and Wolfgang Puck.

Michelle Denton, Jody’s wife and partner, helped him fill out the decor and “works closely with me on all the aesthetics” of the 9-month-old restaurant, he says. Robert Hyde was the architect on the $1.4-million project to create a casual-dining restaurant, with loft seating and exhibition kitchen, from a turn-of-the-century building that most recently housed a furniture store.

Denton became acquainted with Bend beginning in the mid-90s as a participant in the annual Sagebrush Classic culinary fund-raiser. He says he watched the community with more than two dozen golf courses and quick access to mountain recreation areas enjoy impressive residential growth as high-income people who once played there began to figure out ways to stay through early retirement or summer homes.

“I couldn’t help but feel that if you built something with dramatic style and architecture, something like you might find in San Francisco or Paris, that it would be well received,” Jody Denton says of what drove him to open Merenda in downtown Bend.

His intuition appears to have paid off as he reports average weeknight and weekend dinner covers of 100 to 200 and 200 to 300, respectively, depending on the season. Lunch covers, on average, range from 50 to 100, with the greatest volume for both dayparts coming during the summer months, he says.

Jody Denton says he is projecting first-year-sales of about $2.6 million and believes “we’re fully capable of doing well over $3 million” annually. He says 70 percent of the money used to open Merenda came from a U.S. Small Business Administration loan, with the rest supplied by a limited partnership of which “I’m the sole manager.”

Brad Wood, Jody Denton’s associate of eight years, is executive sous chef. He and other staffers burn cherry, apple and peach tree trimmings in the display kitchen’s wood-fired rotisserie, grill and oven. Mary Casanave is the pastry chef.

Jody Denton says he prefers an open kitchen “because it takes advantage of the theater aspect of cooking.” To date, he notes, patrons have applauded slightly louder for meat items than fish and shellfish and given standing ovations to the “very popular” nightly “Wood-Fired Specials.”

Merenda is “packed” regularly for a daily “Happy Hour” between 4 and 6 p.m., when oysters are 50 cents and pizzas are $5, the owner says. Despite bringing in crowds, the promotion does not wreak havoc on food costs. As Jody Denton explains: “About 60 to 70 percent of sales are for non-Happy Hour items.”

The restaurateur says he is swapping goods and services for advertising and points out, “Bend is a small market where people have their habits. So if you are the new guy, you have to get them to change their habits. Also, you have a lot of tourists who need a way to find you.”

Hors d’ Oeuvres and Antipasti

Marinated Octopus with Roasted Peppers,

spinach and Sherry Vinegar 4.95

Fava Beans with olive oil, and Pecorino Romano 5.50

Roasted Halibut Cheeks with Lemon, Garlic and Sherry 6.50

Risotto Fritters with Porcini mushrooms, Rosemary and Fontina 5.50

Small Plates

Iron Skillet Roasted Mussells with Garlic-Lemon Butter 9.95

Warm Spring Garlic and Goat Cheese Tart Young Greens Salad, Red

Wine Vinaigrette 7.95

Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Soup en Croute 8.95

Pizza

Air Dried Italian Pepperoni Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Fontina and

Chives 9.95

Asparagus and Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula, Parmesan and

Truffle Oil 10.95

Pasta, Risotto and Gnocchi

Pappardelle with Truffled English Pea Sauce and Parmesan 11.95

Duck Confit Ravioli with Shallots, Spring Garlic and Dandelion

Greens 12.50

Main Dishes

Wood-Grilled Escolar with Warm Fingerling Potato-Fava Bean

Salad and Pancetta-Mustard Vinaigrette 18.95

Artichoke Barigoule With Gruyere Souffle, Cipollini

Onions, Carrots 14.95

Rotisserie Pork Loin with Pesto Bean Ragout, Fried Green Beans 15.95

Nightly Wood-Fired Specials

Tuesday Cassoulet 16.95

Wednesday Rotisserie Duck 18.95

Thursday Shellfish Bouillabaisse 19.95

RELATED ARTICLE: Cuisine: rustic country French and Italian

Proprietors: Jody and Michelle Denton

Menu maker: Jody Denton

Seats: 190

Opened: August 2002

Check average: lunch, $15; dinner, $33

Average dinner covers: weeknights, 100-200; weekends, 200-300

Slow-seller: wine and cheese tastings

Best-seller: octopus

Wines: 100 by the glass, 600 by the bottle

Food costs: 28.5 percent

Labor costs: 28 percent including management

COPYRIGHT 2003 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group