I had a wonderful dinner the other night at Fireside Red, which reopened last month after a 10-week mid-winter hiatus.
This is not the same restaurant it was in its first year. From its grand opening on March 3, a year ago, Fireside branded itself an “American tapas lounge” but didn’t really live up to that hype. There’s no doubt the food was good, but small plates didn’t exactly dominate the menu.
Things began to change last July, when former sous chef Ryan Barnett stepped up to the executive chef position with the departure of Jeremy Baumgartner. Barnett, 29, a Bend native who cut his culinary teeth in Southern California, found time to work more tapas-style plates into the menu. During the restaurant’s December-to-mid February break, Barnett (who was married on Labor Day) took his honeymoon in Mexico … and returned from south of the border with all manner of new ideas, from pizza with molcajete sauce to a roasted vegetable tamale.
Only one item on the new menu is priced higher than $10.95. A couple can easily share four plates, have a glass of wine apiece, and get out of Fireside for $60, possibly including tip. Although the ambience and service level at this restaurant are upscale, the prices attract a casual crowd.
I love the expanded seafood selections. From fresh tuna, flown in three times a week from Hawaii, to razor clams dug from the beach at Netarts, on the Oregon coast, they are top quality.
The other night, I sampled tomba tuna two ways: thinly sliced, as a carpaccio-style sashimi, with a citrus-shallot marinade and white truffle oil; and pan-seared with grilled asparagus and a mango puree. Both were priced at $10.95. So, too, was a delectable pan-roasted duck breast with an engaging blackberry balsamic sauce.
The lightly breaded razor clams, served piccata-style with a lemon-caper sauce, may have been the best I’ve ever had; they were just $7.95. So was the veggie tamale, with root vegetables (parsnips, beets, carrots and squash) roasted in corn dough, served on a corn husk and topped with an arugula salad.
Owners Michael (M.J.) Jasilewicz, Jr., 34, and Peter Keenan, 32, have been close friends since they met in Las Vegas in 1996. “M.J.,” who was born and raised just north of Boston, finished a stint in the Air Force with a vision of becoming an actor-singer-songwriter. Pete, born in Spokane and raised in Wenatchee, Wash., also wound up on the staff at Vegas’ Wild Horse Country Club. Three years later, both young men left to pursue their food-industry careers in other places. But they stayed in touch and eventually, tired of the corporate life, devised a plan to open their own restaurant as partners.
The pair arrived in Bend in September 2006. A pitch to purchase the Vino Mercato wine bar’s downtown lease fell through; that enterprise became Bistro Corlise, which is now again under new ownership. In April 2007 they found the 3,000-square-foot Old Mill space (site of the original Brooks-Scanlon green-chain building) that became Fireside Red. Nearly another year passed, including five months of work to re-outfit a former office space as a restaurant, before they opened.
The restaurant developed a strong local following, but a perception that it was “expensive” was one of several reasons Keenan and Jasilewicz suddenly closed in early December. They wanted to give Fireside a new face and do a little re-branding. Despite rumors to the contrary, at a time when other Bend restaurants were shuttering, they renovated Fireside. The partners installed a bank of booths to divide the bar from the main restaurant, hung a set of original Matisse lithographs, and performed other cosmetic touches, reopening for Valentine’s Day. They’re now convinced that an annual winter vacation—from Christmas Eve to February 14—will be a good thing.
Fireside opens at 3 p.m. daily, with a happy hour (nothing over $5) between 3 and 6. Beginning in late April, happy hour will begin at 1 p.m. In summer, a Sunday brunch will be offered from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekly on the restaurant’s long deck overlooking the Deschutes River. The current menu will be served through May, complemented by several daily blackboard specials.
Fireside Red is at 803 S.W. Industrial Way, opposite the turnabout at the south end of Wall Street. For reservations: 541-306-3121 or www.firesidered.com.
Why the name, Fireside Red? “Originally we planned to have a big fireplace,” Keenan said. “But the fire marshals wouldn’t allow it. We do have a brick oven … and burgundy walls.”