Our evening at Renata, the Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year

by Rebekahcooked up on June 21, 2015

This week was a big week in the food world of Portland, Oregon. The Oregonian, our largest newspaper, awards a Restaurant of the Year, Rising Star and Cuisine of the Year award each year. This year they decided to celebrate each award with a ticketed dinner, and to not reveal the location of each until about 24 hours before the event.

I like the concept: Ticketed dinners are definitely a favorite form of entertainment here in Portland. Restaurants are experiencing great success doing special themed dinners, celebrity chef collaborations or partnering up with wine producers, cattle ranchers and other makers. I think the format is on-trend and the element of surprise is fun.

Wednesday evening, the day before dinner, it was revealed that the Restaurant of the Year would go to Renata, a very new restaurant in inner Southeast Portland, whose owners have quite the pedigree (they met at a little place called the French Laundry). There was definitely a lot of buzz about this choice: usually this award is given to restaurants that have been open for a few months at least. I heard comments all over the spectrum – some in favor, some not. I am not planning to weigh in on that in this blog post – I can see both sides of the argument.

I also would like to mention that I don’t mean this post to be a review. I just am writing about this special occasion dinner, which was a lot of fun for us to attend. When people review restaurants, they usually visit 6-8 times. I don’t really think it’s fair to “review” a restaurant if you haven’t done so (so kudos to the Willamette Week for making a similar disclaimer at the top of their story about the dinner).

Renata's Smoked Sturgeon with pickled turnips and cirspy kale

Renata’s Smoked Sturgeon with pickled turnips and cirspy kale

Here’s what I do know: the dinner that we had at Renata was excellent. Out of the seven plates and additional appetizers we ate, there were only a couple that I would rate below an A, and many I would call an A+. We started with appetizers and Prossecco on their beautiful patio space (think foie gras- and compote-laden toast) and then headed in for a family-style meal.  Here are some highlights:

Renata's Stone Fruit and Porcini Salad

Renata’s Stone Fruit and Porcini Salad

Stone Fruit and Porcini Salad: Yes, that’s correct, porcini. This was the most innovative dish on the menu this evening, and it was delicious. Dollops of herby whipped lardo circled the salad, and the combination was unusual, not overly sweet but still decadent (that’s probably the lardo talking). I don’t know how it worked, but it did.

Renata's Fava Bean Cappeletti

Renata’s Fava Bean Cappeletti

Fava Bean Cappaletti: Handmade pasta done well always feels like such a luxury. I loved the lightly acidic broth, which contained whey from the Ancient Heritage Dairy that the restaurant shares a building with. Just the right amount of fava beans and morels made a nice balance of earthiness with the broth and rich pasta.

Chocolate semifreddo and passionfruit panna cotta: I think it really says something about the quality of a dessert when you can eat a meal as large as this and still be really wowed by the dessert round. The passionfruit panna cotta was topped with a berry compote and piles of edible flower petals – a stunning presentation. It was tart, light and fruity; a great summer sweet. The chocolate semifreddo was, too – on a night warm enough to be eating on the patio, cold dessert was the way to go.

Renata's Orechiette with Lamb Sausage Sugo

Renata’s Orechiette with Lamb Sausage Sugo

The service: One of the best things about Portland is that the city’s restaurants do such an excellent nicer-casual meal. I think that’s what makes this such a great food town – that you don’t have to get dressed up or spend $150 to have a meal that will show up later in your dreams. That said, I really enjoy occasionally going out for a dinner where I am brought a clean plate on the regular, where I never fill my own water or wine glass and where when I get up and go to the bathroom, my napkin has been re-folded for me when I return. Renata’s staff nailed this. I can’t say enough nice things about the caliber of their team.

I was given complimentary tickets to this dinner by the Oregonian. Opinions are my own.

I think that Renata will find itself among the likes of Le Pigeon, Castagna and other PDX spots on the list of “places to go for a very, very nice meal.” It was not particularly out of the box, which surprised me (seems like you have to do something pretty unusual to make waves in Portland. However, we had a beautiful meal. I am sure Renata will be an enormous success. It’s certainly off to a great start!

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