By Lance Sparks | Published October 2016

Used to be, you could maybe stumble across a little pearl of a diner, cozy, with superb food, not too many people. It could become your secret place, tucked away for private use. You might not even tell close friends, lest the secret spin out of your control: lines form and you can’t get a table with a note from the pope.

Social media has made such secrets nearly impossible. Anybody with a smartphone and a yearning for notoriety can key in a blab, and the secret is blown out of the water.

Bruno’s Chef’s Kitchen is tidy and warm—and as hard to find as buried treasure. It’s stashed behind Jiffy-Mart and a laundromat on a wedge of land where Amazon Parkway splits off. Trees in full flush hide the covered patio,

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This is a gastronomic treasure trove. The chef in Chef’s Kitchen is Swiss-trained culinary master Tom “Bruno” Bollag. Chef Bruno crafts culinary jewels and masterpieces. Chef’s Kitchen is the culmination of a career-long pursuit for his own place, where he can control all aspects of his art. “I am a perfectionist,” he says, without apology. He insists on providing diners with “beautiful food.” Every dish he serves must meet strict standards, beginning with health. His ingredients are carcinogen free, “food for life,” as he says. Bruno uses only the freshest available ingredients—“I do all my shopping,” he says. “Every day, I’m buying.” And he always sources seasonal ingredients, locally grown whenever possible.

Appearance is also important. Bruno’s plates are compositions, with what he calls “three-dimensional” architecture. He says he wants to “get some height,” maybe even some movement, “to build something on the plate.” Color plays a role, sometimes even sparkle. Fresh fruit appears on every plate, dazzling and vibrant. “It’s the sorbet in the meal,” he says, “the palate cleanser, preparing for the next bite.”

Flavor is critical, too, of course. Chef Bruno knows every aspect of the classical kitchen, every role. “The saucier is most important,” he says. “And I am the saucier in my kitchen.” Every dish gets his touch, showing his mastery of spices, preparation, and flavors. “Where can you go where the chef has 50 years’ experience—heck, 52 years—under [their] belt?” he asks. “I’m 65 now and I started when I was 13.” Bollag’s father was a chef in several major kitchens in Europe and the U.S. Bruno himself served in classical kitchens under Escoffier-trained cooks, beginning in Zurich and continuing in San Francisco, then Oregon. He left the limitations of corporate cuisine to open his own restaurants in Eugene, and, finally, he was able to open Chef’s Kitchen in 1994.

When Chef Bruno and Bessie—his wife of 32 years—opened Chef’s Kitchen, the building had a funny feature, a drive-thru window. Bruno kept the window, and it’s still in use today. “People can call in an order, pick it up in 20 minutes, take it wherever,” he says. But Bruno still prefers diners at his tables, where the dishes can be showcased and guests can enjoy the full dining experience.

The menu changes weekly—that’s one reason the menu is hand-written in colorful felt-tip marker—and it varies depending on the season. “But each menu contains at least one item I’ve never cooked before,” Bruno says. Some dishes simply can’t be missed when they’re available in their season.

One item that’s pure gold is Bruno’s plum-curried halibut, so tasty it can make diners cry. He makes his own plum chutney, delicious and central to the dish, that accents the mild cassis curry and fresh bay shrimp. And the halibut fillet? “It’s perfect,” he says. “Why change it?”

Among the appetizers, Bruno is especially tickled with his “Taquitos de Mariscos,” sea bass and prawns wrapped in corn tortillas and laced with tomatillo salsa. But the ahi sashimi, seared rare and complemented by a soy-ginger/wasabi béchamel, that’s a flavor diadem. The “Gnocchi di Parrano” is also superb. Simply put, every item on Chef Bruno’s menu is gem quality.

Don’t miss the filet mignon: “I know how to cook a steak,” Bruno insists.

Note: All Chef’s Kitchen desserts are yummy, but “Bruno’s Dad’s Original Recipe Cheesecake” is a ruby-crusted tiara to crown a treasured dinner.

So go ahead, Yelp away; shout it out, then come early and often. Chances are good that you’ll go home with one of Chef Bruno’s diamonds tucked in your tummy.

3443 Hilyard St.

brunoschefskitchen.com