Paella Sundays at Chesa

I mentioned Paella Sundays at Chesa in my recent post about Summer Pop Ups in Portland 2017 where I listed pop ups and special summer series events that didn’t make it into my Eater PDX article Portland’s Hottest Supper Clubs, Summer 2017, but wanted to share even more detail! Purchase tickets and see exact dates ahead of time or you can try your luck at walk ins. The next Paella Sunday by the way, is this Sunday (2nd Sunday, August 13, and next August 27!)
Paella Sundays at Chesa Paella Sundays at Chesa
Yep, Chesa the restaurant may be closed, but there’s still the original restaurant Ataula, churros at 180, and on the 2nd and last Sundays the Chesa space is still being used by sexy and down to earth chef couple extraordinares Jose Chesa and Cristina Baéz for Paella Sundays. These take place on the patio towards the back of Chesa, are family friendly and dog friendly. Paella Sundays at Chesa give you a glimpse of a casually enjoying Spanish food with your Spanish best friend’s family patio.
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Renata’s Italian Happy Hour – Aperitivo

I’ve been a big fan of Renata since they first opened, as I first wrote about almost a year ago. Back then, I was really impressed by their beautiful patio as well as their incredible pastas and in house aged whole animal (which would appear once in a while when the aging was complete as a special dish on the menu) and the craft cocktails. And then came the rush of the people when Renata was announced as Oregonian’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year, and they went through a trial by fire every day.

Now the rush of the trendy crowds have calmed down – on recent visits I dined with sweet senior citizens and families with kids during early dinner seatings, and then with a range of ages of professionals on business or on date night or with a boisterous group of friends later in the evening. The breathing room now gives Renata the opportunity instead of focusing on executing all the food to the necessary volumes, a chance to experiment and tweak the menu based on new ideas. One of those new ideas is Renata’s Italian Happy Hour – Aperitivo.
Bar of Renata Bar of Renata Bar of Renata Patio of Renata

During Aperitivo, located in the bar and patio only from 4 PM – 6:00 PM Monday – Friday, what was once a Punch Hour before they begin Dinner Service now celebrates Italian Street Food and seasonal cocktails. For spring, this included for instance on their menu the Spring Cocktails of Arrossire with cappelletti, punt e mes, benedictine, soda or Paper Moon with pisco, vermouth, bay leaf, chamomile, egg white, lemon.
Renata Spring Cocktail of Arrossire with cappelletti, punt e mes, benedictine, soda Renata Spring Cocktail of Paper Moon with pisco, vermouth, bay leaf, chamomile, egg white, lemon

I tried the pretty pink house cocktail of Occam’s Razor with vodka, elderflower, blackberry, citrus and prosecco. Or go for the Old Fashioned Flight included one rye with demerara, one bourbon with smoked maple. and one made with scotch and burnt honey.
Renata house cocktail of Occam’s Razor with vodka, elderflower, blackberry, citrus and prosecco Renata Old Fashioned Flight included one rye with demerara, one bourbon with smoked maple. and one made with scotch and burnt honey

Meanwhile, on the food menu enjoy bites such as

Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds which have this light airy feel of a pork rind but then you pucker up after a bite!
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds

Salumi alla Casa plate, this visit with spicy coppa, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, Vacca Bruna parmigian
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Salumi alla Casa with spicy coppa, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, Vacca Bruna parmigian

Formaggio plate, for this visit that included Sheep with bloomy rind cheese Valentine, Cow hard rind cheese Andrea Menzazana, and a Sheep + Cow washed rind cheese Willow Creek
Renata's updated happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Formaggio that includes Sheep with bloomy rind cheese Valentine, Cow hard rind cheese Andrea Menzazana, and a Sheep + Cow washed rind cheese Willow Creek

Stuffed Fried Olives with Trotter and Calabrian Chili Aioli look like aracini, but don’t be fooled – there is an olive in there, adding a nice counterpoint to the deep fried exterior
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Stuffed Fried Olives with Trotter and Calabrian Chili Aioli

Aracini with pork sugo and fontina are creamy and rich
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Aracini with pork sugo and fontina Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Aracini with pork sugo and fontina

The other tasty “ball” item on the menu (besides the marinated olives which I did not try – but those are more like ovals right?) are these juicy and large Polpettine, a dish of lamb and beef meatballs with polenta that are decadant just like the aracini.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Polpettine a dish of lamb and beef meatballs with polenta Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Polpettine a dish of lamb and beef meatballs with polenta

While the Ceci Bean Panelle with pecorino and lemon are light ceci bean fritter that’s impossible to only have 3 or 4 of them…
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Ceci Bean Panelle with pecorino and lemon

Dumplings are given a crispy crunchy exterior but oozy cheesy interior via these Panzerotti with mozzarella and marinara, which is one of my recommendations as it’s one of my favorites of the Aperitivo menu.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Panzerotti with mozzarella and marinara Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Panzerotti with mozzarella and marinara

My other recommendation and outstanding item on the menu are these Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta which make use of the pizza oven and dough to make a flatbread sandwich that is crispy like a quesadilla’s tortilla on the outside but stuffed with goodness like a panini but without all the heavy bread.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta

In Chicago, one of my super fond food memories that I haven’t been able to find very often is enjoying smelt – back then we got them from DiCola’s Seafood, with mom driving after school to order us the fried smelt by the pound that we started eating just barely past the door. Now Renata has offered me an outlet via their Fritto Misto with calamari and smelt that unlike most calamari you find (I should know – my brother loves calamari and orders it every time it’s on a menu when we dine out), Renata’s version is very lightly battered to a crisp and not soggy with oil.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Fritto Misto with calamari and smelt

I know their Aperitivo is only a short period of time on weekdays – and coming in from Hillsboro where I work, sometimes public transit doesn’t work in my favor and I get there too late. But, I still encourage you to visit. One of the obvious pleasures of Renata is the incredible pastas they have there – I’ve ever had one I didn’t enjoy. There are pasta shapes that I’ve encounted for the first time here, such as when I had Pici with roasted suckling pig and green garlic which is a firm tubelike pasta to when I had Squid Ink Corzetti with Lamb sausage, clams, and breadcrumbs where corzetti is a stamped flat pasta.
"Pici Squid Ink Corzetti with Lamb sausage, clams, and breadcrumbs where corzetti is a stamped flat pasta

One of the more secret pleasures is that Renata buys whole animals and ages them after doing their own butchering and often uses the whole animal. So, whenever I see for instance any beef on the menu, I am there, enjoying a secret steak that I think is among the top 3 in Portland when it appears.
Renata Renata 20 oz Ribeye with roasted garlic butter

Don’t overlook the smaller ways that the meat may show up on the menu – from being in the pasta to on Chef Matt Sigler’s super on point crostini in the Bites section of the menu (more like half an open faced sandwich!) like this Crostini with Beef Brisket, Horseradish, and Potato Artichoke Puree on that perfectly chewy Pugliese. I was torn on whether to enjoy the beef brisket as part of the whole dish or pick off bits of that melt in your mouth beef to enjoy on its own. I did both.
Renata Crostini with Beef Brisket, Horseradish, and Potato Artichoke Puree on that perfectly chewy Pugliese Renata Crostini with Beef Brisket, Horseradish, and Potato Artichoke Puree on that perfectly chewy Pugliese

And look for anything on their grill and fire, like here Grilled Octopus or a side of Coal Roasted Polenta with Gorgonzola picante
Renata Grilled Octopus with English peas, olive, mint Renata Coal Roasted Polenta with Gorgonzola picante

In checking out their wine list, ask about the wine selections from the Lava Bar section. These are incredible selections of wine where the grapes are grown on volcanic soil. It was only after a friend who took notes and always asked about vineyards and soil that I started taking those same notes, and I realized that whenever at a tasting event or room I tried volcanic soil wine 8 out of 10 I would end up purchasing a bottle. So clearly I have a preference for it – regardless of grape. Maybe you do too – come give it a try!

One of my favorite patios in Portland is the one at Renata, and I confess I’m there pretty often. What do you think of the updated Italian Street food Aperitivo happy hour there, what would you order? Where is your favorite outdoor patio for dining in Portland?

Disclosure: I attended a complimentary shared blogger Aperitivo happy hour, but I also returned on my own and on my own dime multiple times. I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own. 

Renata Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Firehouse Restaurant – celebrating family with fire

Disclosure: A portion of this meal was complimentary thanks to a gift certificate from Travel Portland, but I will always provide  my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may  be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my  own.

The irony of going to Firehouse Restaurant, housed in old Firehouse 29, an actual firehouse station, where you are then greeted with the scent of fire and smoke from their specialties- wood-fired oven, rotisserie and grill, is not lost on me. My experience was of rustic warmth of a neighborhood gem centered on family and community… and yes, some fire.

And then what/who put it over the top, Polar Bear. Polar Bear is a Maine Coon cat.

Let’s start at the beginning. From the outside, it first appears to be a refurbished trendy spot, with its bold brick red and black lines, and the sign with its modern lines representing this classic building’s structure. Even though it was autumn, the evening was still lovely so they had their firehouse garage door rolled open, and there were many people dining outside (ok, maybe not represented fully in my photos, which were taken when I was leaving), including some in their garden area under twinkling strings of lights like you were at a backyard party.

Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station

Inside, the open kitchen showcased the sights and scents of fire. It was cozy, with photos of the original occupants of the firehouse on one wall.

Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station  Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station Firehouse Restaurant, atmosphere of the restaurant in a restored Fire Station

I was driving, so I stuck with a yummy fizzy housemade soda, and F was impressed with the ability to get some German beers. We had 3 small plates to share, fried cauliflower with lemon creme fraiche, beets with salsa verde and hazelnuts, and aracini (that time it was with corn basil and mozzarella but I know they change it up). The beets were our favorite among the three.

Firehouse Restaurant, housemade soda  Firehouse Restaurant, fried cauliflower with lemon creme fraiche Firehouse Restaurant, beets with salsa verde and hazelnuts Firehouse Restaurant, aracini with corn basil and mozzarella

Then, for our entrees, F went vegetarian of course with handmade ricotta cavatelli with basil pesto, corn, Mike’s cherry tomatoes and pecorino, while I went with the wood grilled hanger steak with crispy potatoes, arugula and grana padano. I believe the steak is a regular menu item, but they change up the pasta.

Firehouse also has half a dozen wood fired Neapolitan style pizzas (you saw that gorgeous pizza oven earlier in the photos right?), but F and I cannot agree on pizza (he loves his oversauced with tomatoes) so that was a no go for my visit this time. As you can see, everything is simple, rustic family fare with fresh local ingredients like an Italian family transplanted here to the Northwest for a couple generations.
Firehouse Restaurant, handmade ricotta cavatelli with basil pesto, corn, Mike's cherry tomatoes and pecorino Firehouse Restaurant, wood grilled hanger steak with crispy potatoes, arugula and grana padano

It isn’t just the guests at the Firehouse Restaurant that are treated like family. This past August was their 5 year anniversary AND was the 100th birthday of the Firehouse 29 building, so Firehouse hosted a street fair to celebrate. They donated funds raised at the event went to The Pixie Project, a Portland-based animal adoption center and rescue, and Sauvie Island Center, an educational program increasing the food, farm and environmental literacy of the next generation through hands-on educational field trips to elementary school youth of Portland at their Sauvie Island location in Howell Territorial Park. The street fair was EXACTLY like you would expect at your friendly neighborhood block party, including a chili cook-off, pie auction, live music, dunk tank, sack racing, petting zoo, and pony rides!

They are back at participating with community tomorrow, with owner/head chef Matthew Busetto joining up with the Sauvie Island Center again. This time, he is leading a cooking lesson using ingredients gathered from the Grow Lunch Garden (a row tended and harvested by visiting elementary school students) and working with 7th graders from Sauvie Island Academy to prepare sopes (a chewy soft tortilla that is thick, sort of like if you decided to make mini pizzas), all from scratch using cornmeal and topped with a green tomato salsa and vegetable slaws, all made from ingredients gathered on the farm.

That’s right, he organized a block party with a dunk tank and  petting zoo AND teaches kids a recipe and the value of gardening. He’s like a cool uncle who lives in a old firehouse that you can go to anytime for dinner!

While we were dining, the Firehouse cat “Polar Bear” came to visit several guests. When I went to the restroom, as I admired photos of Polar Bear adorning the restroom walls, apparently Polar Bear decided to become F’s new date and took my seat and I worry that if I took any longer getting back whether F would have been so charmed as to ditch me for Polar Bear.

Firehouse Restaurant celebrating Polar Bear, the Fire House Maine Coon cat Firehouse Restaurant celebrating Polar Bear, the Fire House Maine Coon cat

That evening we were among a few tables that fawned over Polar Bear and took photos with him like he is a celebrity chef or owner here. Actually, considering he seems to be in the center of the framed photos by the business cards perched right by the open kitchen, maybe that’s not untrue. Like going to a celebrity owned restaurant, it’s probably a matter of luck whether you get to see him. As we enjoy the unreal perfect October autumn weather we are having right now, with colorful and crisp falling leaves yet sunshine and 70 degree temperatures, the Firehouse patio is still usable, and offering the best tables. But the patio and Polar Bear are probably in limited time only mode now.

Still, that night his presence really underlines the warm family feel of Firehouse Restaurant. That’s right, Polar Bear really sealed the deal in feeling like I was at some Italian family’s home as Polar Bear visited each of the tables like this was his place and he was checking on each table’s well-being, and if you wanted to reach down to pet, fine, or not, he’d continue on his way unobtrusively.

Firehouse Restaurant celebrating Polar Bear, the Fire House Maine Coon cat Firehouse Restaurant celebrating Polar Bear, the Fire House Maine Coon cat

Firehouse was on the list for Portland Dining month in June where you can try 3 courses for $29, but they offer that everyday as part of their menu: you get to choose any small plate, salad, and any entree, so you don’t have to wait until June! I do recommend making a reservation (we did so via OpenTable) because it is smack in a neighborhood and I believe enjoyed by many of the locals regularly, so sometimes there might be a wait… particularly if you have your heart set on that garden outdoor patio area when the weather permits. Though there is always the option of going to grab a beer across the street at Breakside or  The Oregon Public House while you are waiting I suppose!

Disclosure: A portion of this meal was complimentary thanks to a gift certificate from Travel Portland, but I will always provide  my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may  be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my  own.

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