The interior received a makeover, though the before-and-after comparison is not striking at first glance. On closer inspection, however, while the palette and some of the detail is the same, the layout is actually quite different and much more user friendly. The bar area has been cordoned off with a bank of red booths and expanded, apparently a very wise move as it seems to be the first area to fill. There's also a chef's counter with bar stools where diners can watch the kitchen in action. And the dining room, which was formerly a wide-open space with rows of tables, is now divided into blocks of tables and booths that make the room cozier and the seating more comfortable. The amazing outdoor deck overlooking the Deschutes is thankfully unchanged. The wide-screen TVs are also still there and still a little too prominent for my taste, but they have loaded the two in the dining area with a slide show of alternating quotations and works of art. It's a start, but wouldn't hurt to turn them off on occasion.
The kitchen staff and menu also got something of a facelift, though again, not a complete overhaul. Instead of scrapping the old and starting from scratch, the best parts have been preserved and built upon. Ryan Barnett, the sous chef from Fireside's last incarnation, is now the executive chef, and the menu really reflects the change. There's a strong sense of familiarity in the new menu, but preparations clearly have a new stamp on them, prices are a bit lower and portions are a bit bigger.
Tapas are pretty much my favorite way to eat, so fortunately that's still the theme. There are a few larger plates available, but the rest of the menu is broken down into categories of small plates: cheese plates, seafood tapas, meat tapas, vegetable tapas, salads and soups, and brick oven pizzas. Dishes range from $2.95 for a house made baguette to $10.95 for the pan-roasted duck breast, so you can basically decide going in how much you want to spend and order accordingly.
After sampling an array of dishes across the menu, I recommend paying attention to the specials board hanging by the kitchen. On one visit the artichoke special drizzled with balsamic was one of my favorites that evening. On another night, I ordered two of the fish specials. The grilled walu, a Hawaiian fish, with arugula salad and tortilla strips was lovely, and the sesame-crusted ahi, beautifully sliced and dressed in a wasabi sauce, was melt-in-your-mouth fresh. In everything, there is no skimping on the seasoning, a trait I couldn't appreciate more. The menu changes frequently, but standout regular items include the baby back ribs, which I ordered dry rubbed (you can get them Asian style or chipotle BBQ as well), the sliders and the mac & cheese. I don't know what crack-cocaine they put in the sliders to make them that delicious, but I do know that in the mac & cheese the truffle oil makes the dish.
Service is, as before, a little overly solicitous, and they still include comment cards with the check. But hey, you can't really fault a place that cares that much what their customers think. You get the feeling that everyone working at Fireside red, from bartender to server to host, is an owner or at least as emotionally invested. It's been a tumultuous year, but hopefully a nice stretch of peace and prosperity will give the staff a chance to relax.
803 SW Industrial Way, 306-3121. Tues.-Sat. 3 p.m.-close (extended hours starting late April); happy hour tapas ($3-$5), 3-6 p.m.