Five Fusion & Sushi Bar is breaking the mold with it's high end feel yet affordable prices
Most Bendites spend Friday night in puffy down jackets, with a dog leash in one hand and a microbrew in the other, so I get that foie gras nigiri and sake martinis might sound like a pricey night out in Portland's pretentious Pearl District.

Lilian Chu disagrees.

"This is a not a high-end restaurant," Chu told me. "Sure, we can serve you a $90 bottle of wine, no problem, but you can also get a $5 wine."

Five Fusion and Sushi Bar is smack in the heart of Downtown Bend at 821 Wall Street, where just a few years ago, another sushi bar called Deep drowned in bankruptcy.

Chu says even Bend foodies weren't willing to, or just couldn't afford to pay a Deep tab.

"When my husband and I went there for dinner, it would cost us $150 for two people," she said.

Chu's frugality translated into one of the happiest happy hours in town just a few years later.

Five Fusion has topped The Source's "best-of" lists two years in a row with pint-sized versions of their dinner menu favorites, like Mini Crab Cakes 6 bucks during happy hour -- 10 bucks as a starter during dinner service.

This is a good time to talk about Five Fusion's signature cocktails. During happy hour, they go for $6 and the surprise is...good liquor.

I'm no liquor snob. I'm the girl who always gets intimidated when the bartender asks what type of vodka I want with my ginger ale.

It goes something like this...
Me: well vodka (whispered)
Bartender: what?
Me: well. (a little louder)
Bartender: ohhh... WELL. (loud enough to make sure everyone else in the bar now knows I'm a cheap ass who probably should have just bought a cheap fifth and drank at home.)
Me: Alright...back to my point.

Five Fusion makes you forget you're living paycheck to paycheck and instead feel like you just fell into a scene from Sex and The City (cue: roll your eyes)...OK, how about Gossip Girl? Is that more hip and timely?

Anyway, here's the breakdown. Fancy fruity martinis. Coolers, like their Not So Old Fashioned a combo of Makers Mark whiskey, club soda and Marionberry Puree.

And...Sake-Tinis, really the best Tini to take down if you're feeling all like, "Look at me using chopsticks, not even dropping sushi all over the place." Yeah, if it's that kind of a good night, a Sake-Tini would be the perfect pair to your newfound sushi skills.

Whoops, almost forgot one of the most important Coolers -- the Bloody 5 Fusion. Sounds a little creepy. But, it's got all the goods of a normal Bloody Mary with Organic vodka and fresh wasabi.

Fresh meaning their wasabi doesn't come from a powder. When you think about it, what good thing ever came from something in powder-form? I mean, there was Tang back in the day, but do you really want to be slathering your prized cut of raw fish with something that came in the same form as Tang?

That brings me to a great quote from Chu about flavor. She wants you to like their fresh hand-crushed wasabi and even the gluten-free soy sauce they offer...but not too much.

"We don't want them to walk away saying, 'I just had a dinner of wasabi and soy sauce,'" she said.

The executive chef told me a lot of people say they don't like wasabi, but what they really don't like is the powder wasabi because it's way too strong. Fresh wasabi has a much more subtle taste.

Many of Five Fusion's specialty sushi rolls come with their own special sauce concocted by executive chef Joe Kim.

Segue -- the great thing about sushi is, if nobody tells you what the japanese word on the menu means, you're more likely to try things like Unagi -- freshwater eel. Or Tako -- better known as octopus.

If you try the Shogun Roll, your adventurous self will taste eel, butterfish, asparagus and avocado spicy salmon (not that adventurous) black tobiko (flying

fish roe or if you're really new to this kind of thing -- fish eggs.) All of this is fried in a tempura batter with an unagi sauce on top (that's more eel). Good for you!

With all those new flavors, no need to muck it up by dunking it in a ton of soy sauce -- you're not eating chicken nuggets, you know.

Alright, back to the man behind the counter, Joe Kim. He's the creative charge behind Five Fusion.

But as any good man is -- he's modest, even though he's been preparing sushi since 1995 when he was just a 15-year-old helping out at his dad’s restaurant.

"I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen everything, so that's one of the things that drives me is the continual desire to get things perfect, to do something new -- to do something different," said Kim.

"Everyone that I've worked with has worked in other sushi restaurants so they all bring something to the table as well."

Kim is talking about his right-hand men, Bryce Beard and Ian Brubaker, who join him on the sushi line.

Don't forget Remi Oakman either. He's the sweet, towheaded teen peeling cucumbers. The high school student developed a love for sushi and has been working his way up the Five Fusion crew hierarchy ever since he was hired as a runner a few years ago.

If you're a beer lover and a sushi lover, go ahead and give Bryce a high-five the next time you step into Five Fusion.

The guys came up with the idea to brine the Wild Alaskan Chinook salmon they serve in Boneyard Brewing's IPA -- then smoke it for their special "roll of the week."

But Bryce thought to throw some hops into the smoker with it.

What came out is tasty and totally local. Well, except for that Alaskan salmon...they didn't reel that in themselves, but you can't blame them for that.

Kim tries to constantly switch things up at the restaurant with things like Uni ice cream and right now, he's working on finding a way to "cold-smoke" fish. So far it's involved trips to Home Depot and a little creative thinking.

So what do you do if you love sushi but your boyfriend is all, "Why would I pay to eat raw fish?"

Kim suggest easing them into sushi with a mild fish like Tuna or the kid favorite California Roll with crab.

If you can't do it, try sitting at the actual sushi bar one night in Five Fusion and let Kim work his charm.

"If they feel like you're just a used car salesman trying to sell them whatever is left over, they're not going to try anything," Kim told me. "But when they know that you're trying to get them to try something that you love and that you're passionate about, I think you can get people to try just about anything."

Kim didn't set it up, but sitting two chairs to my left at the sushi bar, James Westcoat proved his point.

Westcoat is from Redmond and comes to Five Fusion often -- tonight was a special occasion, his wife's birthday.

Westcoat pointed at the Uni in the sushi case and said "There's no way I would have ever paid for that upfront -- now I will."

Yep, Kim convinced Westcoat he was missing out by passing on the Sea Urchin's edible part -- its gonads.

Uni really doesn't look much better than what it really is, but it's considered to be an aphrodisiac by some and have a sweet taste.

Not for everybody, but how will you know unless you try it?

I don't need much convincing on trying new things so I looked forward to trying their special foie gras nigiri.

The duck liver came out looking like a small slice of andouille sausage perfectly placed atop a small pillow of sticky rice.

The process of fattening up a duck so that it's liver can be enjoyed after it's killed is, of course, controversial. But the sweetness of Five Fusion's foie gras nigiri was reason enough to turn a blind eye and feel bad about force-feeding ducks later.

Judged, I know.

Let me wrap this up by wooing you with Lilian Chu's involvement in local non- profits like Kid's Center, which helps raise awareness about child sexual abuse.

Chu is devoted to sharing Five Fusion's space with the community's non-profits to raise money.

The upstairs is frequently full of people attending collaborative catered charity dinners that bring in big bucks. Last year, the events raised more than $30,000. Cha-Ching. See, now we all feel better.

In case you're wondering, their service is fast and pleasant, the restaurant is clean and classy and if you're one of those people who rates a restaurant on whether they have crisp white napkins (as if that has anything to do with how
good the food is) -- YES, Five Fusion is well-stocked with crisp white napkins folded by servers and runners when they're not running your food to you.

The Wine Shop in Bend Oregon
The Wine Shop and Beer Tasting Bar is a delicious and welcoming slice of Europe right here in Bend.  Originally known at The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, they’ve now, very appropriately, added the word BEER to the title.  The Wine Shop and Beer Tasting Bar is for wine and beer connoisseurs alike, as their 8 taps offer up some of the highest quality local and international beers to be found.

Owner Melanie Betti added the taps after taking a trip to Europe which included time in Belgium and Austria.  The free-flowing Belgian beers on tap were an entirely different experience than in the bottle, and she wanted to make that incredible experience accessible to her customers back in Bend.  Currently, half of the eight beers on tap at The Wine Shop are Belgian, and they are served up in the correct stemware for a truly authentic experience.  The other four taps aren’t too shabby, either.  On those taps Melanie generally features the best of local and regional craft brewing, often offering special edition kegs and brews that are harder to find.  She generally always has a Pilsner, an IPA and a darker brew on tap to give some nice, rounded variety.  Melanie indicated that local beer aficionados praise her beer offerings, which she takes as a big compliment.

I’m a brew lover so I got really excited about that, but don’t get me wrong, there’s so much more going on at The Wine Shop than beer.  If you’re not familiar with The Wine Shop, it’s a beautiful space located in a central spot in downtown Bend on Minnesota, next to Thump Coffee.  The Wine Shop is definitely more than a retail spot to buy yourself a fantastic bottle of wine to take home to go with dinner (although you can certainly do that, and Melanie is happy to help you choose one).  It’s also a great spot to hang out, have some great conversation, and relax.  With its warm brick walls, dark woods, high ceilings and walls of wine bottles, it’s got a cozy, European feel.  It’s a local pub sort of spot that makes you want to linger a while.

In addition to the world-class wines and beers, The Wine Shop also serves some tasty food and offers a fabulous array of meats and cheeses from all around the globe.  A cheese-lover’s candy store, you can get yourself some triple cream brie from France, some gruyere from Switzerland, some smoked gouda from the Netherlands or some lavender and fennel-infused “Purple Haze” goat cheese from California.  And that’s just a small sampling of what’s on the menu.  In addition to the vast selection of cheeses, you can also find specialty meats, olives, paninis, salads and more.  The Wine Shop is passionate about food and beverage pairings, so no matter what you get, you can have a wine or beer recommended that will compliment your food fabulously.  For Valentine’s Day, The Wine Shop hosted a cupcake and wine/beer tasting.  Three delicious cupcake flavors (locally baked) were paired with three different and fabulously complimentary wines or beers.  Yes, cupcakes and beer.  Sounds like the ultimate comfort combination.  I’ll take the fudge cupcake with the craft porter, please.

The Valentine’s Day pairing was just one of many of The Wine Shop’s special events.  They regularly host tastings, food pairings and other fun happenings.  Coming up soon they’ve got the Sage in the Kitchen Foodie Crawl on Sunday, April 1st, live music with Josh Hart on Sunday April 27th, and several tastings in the works for April and May, including a Rose tasting, Italian tasting, and Belgian beer tasting.  You can check their website at thewineshopbend.com for specific dates for the tastings and further happenings.  In the meantime, stop in for happy hour between 4:30-6:30 Tuesday through Saturday for $1 off all glass pours, and to soak up a little European flavor.

Velvet is one of Bend's hottest new after hours spots for cocktails with friends.
There’s a little place in downtown Bend that has a lot going on for its size.  Velvet is a small spot with big personality that doesn’t really have an equal counterpart in town.  It’s a one-of-a-kind lounge and night spot serving up a visually tasty, sleek atmosphere and equally tasty cocktails and food.

One of the things I love about Velvet is that it is upscale and sophisticated without being pretentious or snobby.  It could be, if it wanted to.  It’s one of the sleekest, most artistically-inspired spots in Bend, with urban forest-inspired décor (think Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, but better), fancy cocktails and sexy, pillowed nooks for socializing.  But contrasting with its upscale appearance, it’s accessible and welcoming to everyone, from the wealthy urban traveler, to the laid-back snowboarder, to the twenty-something chick dressed to the nines for a night out with the ladies, to the local construction guy looking for a good-priced tallboy.

What makes Velvet so welcoming?  For starters, when I approach the bar I can be almost sure that I will be greeted by friendly and engaging Austin, or Cori.  There are only a few people who run the show at Velvet, and it’s obvious that they love what they do. Their laid-back, friendly energy infuses the service.  Cori is not just a bartender, she’s also the owner.  She took over ownership of the place in January of this year after working as a bartender for quite some time, but ownership doesn’t keep her from mixing up her fabulous cocktails and connecting with customers.

Another aspect of Velvet that keeps it so accessible and friendly is its affordable prices.  Along with its tasty variety of sophisticated and creative cocktails, you can also get yourself a beer in a can for just a couple of bucks.  On the same menu that you can find a Mate Mojito with muddled mint and lime, coconut rum and organic lemon juice, you can also find yourself a 40 ouncer of PBR.  Reflecting the salt of the earth to urban chic theme of the place, you can get your 40 “classy or trashy,” with classy being served up chilled in a bucket champagne style, and trashy being served in a paper bag, depending on the mood you want to embody.  In addition to the already reasonable beverage prices on the menu every day, they’ve got a daily special that’s a smokin’ deal.  Right now, on Mondays you can get a fabulous bloody Mary with all the fixins’ for five bucks, or an Old German Lager in a can for only a dollar.

Don’t let the focus on beverages fool you; Velvet also has some really fabulous food.  The menu was designed by Jeff Hunt, chef extraordinaire of global fusion food cart and local creative food staple Spork.  The food is also amazingly affordable, with no food item over 8 bucks and most items priced at around 6.  My favorite dish is the Spanish tortilla, which is a fabulous frittata with onion, queso fresco and honey aioli.  It’s a perfectly-portioned savory dish that hits the spot for dinner or late night munching.  The BLT sliders are the most popular item on the menu and also fabulous.  If you want something a bit more decadent, try the prociutto-wrapped mushrooms with goat cheese, chickpea puree and truffle oil…they are little bites of bliss.

Velvet is more than a lovely spot for fabulous food and drink; it’s a also a good spot to check out local art.  During each First Friday artwalk, they showcase a different local artist.  On First Friday in April, Velvet will feature the collage art, jewelry and fashion of cutting-edge local artist Sarah Viles, also known as the Homeslice.  Come check it out, grab yourself a cocktail and wear what you want, because everybody is welcome.

Foodies Enjoy,