Sublime Richness At Fireside RedLocated in the upper Old Mill area, Fireside Red bills itself as featuring "American Tapas with global influences." The menu is chock full of eclectic eats served as small portions or as "family style" dishes designed to share.
The space is upbeat and lively, with an open kitchen and six-seat chef's counter, a large bar stretching across one wall and an area that can be screened off and used as a private dining room. The south wall is solid windows, over looking the twists and turns in the Deschutes River that gave our fair town its name.
Executive Chef Jeremy Baumgartner has created dishes that are as different in origin and flavor as they are in presentation. The "Fire and Ice" salad in served on a long rectangular plate covered in thinly sliced cucumbers and dappled with lime granita, pickled onion, habañero macerated tomato and mint froth. The mac and cheese is served in a simple ramekin with crusty breadcrumbs and paper-thin slices of fragrant truffles crowning the dish.
My favorites are many and varied. The sage-stuffed quail with applewood bacon and butternut polenta is fabulous, as is the pan-roasted pork tenderloin served with an apple cashew cream. Flavors blend into sublime richness in the saffron cauliflower risotto made with sweet English peas and dotted with crunchy pistachios. The Dungeness crab-mascarpone ravioli is to die for, with distinct flavor levels of truffle, cream and delicate seafood.
The desserts are also creatively crafted, spanning from traditional to the not-so-traditional sweetmeats. My favorite is the lovely "Banana Financier," a dense yellow cake topped with carmelized bananas, milk-chocolate ice cream and a spiced pecan-rum sauce. Coming a close second is the port-poached pear with pear sorbet, squares of buttermilk pannecotta and star anise syrup.
Owners Peter Keenan and Michael "MJ" Jasilewicz and chef Baumgartner keep the menu fresh, an imperative in a tapas restaurant, where a diner may be able to try a third of the menu at each meal. In the first two weeks of the restaurant there were 10 changes to the menu.
Currently the management has overstaffed the dining room - a much-preferred option to the common understaffing in new restaurants -so the service is attentive but sometimes over-the-top, a situation bound to be remedied as some of the opening issues are worked out.
The deck, which can accommodate another 10 to 15 tables, suspends diners over the river, offering views of the Old Mill and, on a clear day, the mountains. If they can figure out the umbrella/heater/wind situation that plagues any outside dining area in Central Oregon, they will have one of Bend's nicest restaurant patios.
Close enough to downtown without being another downtown restaurant and in the Old Mill without being part of the "mall," Fireside Red has a lot of things going for it, only one of which is the intricately prepared and well-thought-out food.