Trendy, Smoked, and Charred,  But Where The Heck Did All The CDs Go? 

Oh, who could have known eight years or so ago, when I was at the NW outlet of Music Millennium, buying a Garbage CD, that the next time I passed under that locally famous marquee, I would instead be doing some fine dining, not CD buying.IMG_3514 (Gee, could it be that my once every 8 year patronage cycle contributed to their demise? You can’t make me feel guilty! Not only do I regularly buy music at the E. Burnside location (I always preferred aged hippies to those trendy snots that were at the NW store ) I don’t even own an iPod.) I guess it’s not too surprising, if you count the number of record stores left compared to how many restaurants we have in Portland, that even our most famous music seller would end up being replaced by a restaurant, especially considering the fact that 10 years from now every establishment in Portland will most likely be a restaurant. Just think, the physician office/restaurant, the shoe store/restaurant, the dog wash/restaurant, the “massage parlor”/restaurant, the taxidermist/restaurant, and the morgue/restaurant (bon appetite!) Some of the restaurants will probably even have additional restaurants inside them, just for variety. The possibilities are endless!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Their website mentions that the inspiration behind Fireside (Portland) is the outdoors, camping, sitting around a fire, or a cozy gathering around the fireplace at home. IMG_3504Consequently, they have not one, but two fireplaces inside a modest sized restaurant (hey MM, that’s why you bit it, no fireplaces.) When we visited Fireside Portland, we probably didn’t get the full effect of what the owners had in mind, as it was a really warm Spring day, and no fireplaces at all were burning. I’m sure in the winter it is pleasant and cozy. It seems kind of sad though, to call your restaurant Fireside, and have two fireplaces, but only be able to use them in the chillier months (okay, here in P-Town that means cold hearths in August and September.) If only they could devise a Fireplace that spits out air conditioning. Also, since Fireside was full of trendy, beautiful, NW Portland people, it was a bit hard to imagine I was out camping, as no where was there a screaming baby, or a yellow jacket buzzing around my head (or a skeeter) or white trash 70’s rock, or a deafening throbbing generator. They did have S’Mores for dessert though, so really, what more can you expect?

You can certainly tell you are not on a camping trip by the specialty drinks on the menu at Fireside. They may have down homey names, but they are full of trendy ingredients, especially nasty, bitter things. As I don’t really have a go-to drink, except for sometimes a G & T, or if advertised a Mojito, I tend to rely on the specialty drink menu when trying to locate an interesting beverage. This one was a minefield of scariness. Heidi is not big on cocktails, she’s a wine girl, but she was looking over the cocktail menu for fun, and didn’t know what half the ingredients were. IMG_3500I always know I don’t want any sort of whiskey, so I avoid all those drinks, and have learned the name of lots of the bitter things, so know to avoid them, as well. Well, cross off the whiskeys, and cross off the bitters, and I don’t think anything was left on Fireside’s cocktail menu. So I decided on a drink that had no whiskey, but sounded a little less bitter than the others, the Backyard Grillin’ – reposado tequila + Zucca rhubarb amaro, mezcal + lemon + orange bitters. Okay, the drink was only mildly bitter. Mostly, it tasted all burnt up, largely from the charred orange they inserted and the mezcal. I gave Heidi a taste, and she commented on home smoky it tasted. So, did I like it? I probably would not order it again, it wasn’t bad, but it was peculiar. It looked pretty and such, with the burnt up Orange slice, but the last slump was like swallowing a briquette. A unique experience though. David went his usual route, with rum (I don’t remember if FS had Drambuie or not) Heidi had “their cheapest glass of red wine” (her words) and Julian had a couple of Old German beers (Heidi was disappointed to see they were some whimpy American brew, not German at all.)

IMG_3511A few years back I remember reading and hearing that for health’s sake (what’s that?) you should limit your intake of grilled and BBQed meats, as the charring of the surface changes the composition of the outside of the product, increasing the carcinogens. Wow, it’s lucky we live in food rabid Portland, where most restaurants put the tastiness of charred foods above those crazy health concerns! Not only do we have many wood fired pizza ovens, we also have delicious wood fired palaces of food pleasure like Ox, Imperial, Ned Ludd, and now, Fireside. And while Ned Ludd uses their wood over to cook almost everything, even they don’t go as far when it comes to adding a seared taste. Seemingly, at Fireside, you can go from cocktail to dessert and never escape that cooked over blazing wood flavor.

Heidi started the table out with “grilled bread with olive spread.” Although the olive spread was not smoked, burnt, or otherwise cooked, it was very unusual, as green olives were ground up with the butter (usually when olives are inserted into an item, they tend to be some form of black olive.) The bread itself, as you can tell by the description, very grilled and smoky.

IMG_3501If you want something to depend on at our dinners, if she and Julian are there, you can plan that Heidi will either order olives or something cheesy, or both. This was olive night. So, of course our table saw an order of “grilled marinated olives.” I think this is about the third time we’ve had hot olives at a dinner, and they always seem to be those really attractive, round, true green (opposed to olive green) Castelvetrano Olives. Perhaps because they are quite firm to begin with, they hold up better to cooking than other varieties. These were not only warm, they were burning hot, and surprise, surprise, smoky tasting.

Although Heidi didn’t get cheesy tasting, David took care of that by getting the table an order of “pepper spread + crackers.” IMG_3503I suppose the pepper spread was supposed to be an echo of Cheese Whiz or processed Pimento cheese slices, but this was way too delicious to have any connection to those two scary, old timey items. Best of all, the homemade crackers, rich and buttery with a wonderful texture. I wish more restaurants did homemade crackers, the last two versions I’ve had, here at Fireside and early this year at Raven & Rose, were both wonderful. Those things that come in a box, blech!

Since we were all getting something for the table, I needed to play too. IMG_3507I happen to know that Heidi, Julian, and David all really like french fries, so I figured I could choke a few down too. Fireside’s version – “french fries with fireside smoked ketchup + aioli” were excellent, thin, crispy, and non-greasy. Even more incredible, this was a time when I enjoyed ketchup more than aioli. Naturally, this being the Fireside, the ketchup had a delicious smoky flavor, Heidi loving it so much she asked how it was made (they smoke the tomatoes then make the ketchup.) I would have to think that a ketchup like this would liven up even the lamest burger, super tasty!

IMG_3505David and Shuhong also wanted a salad, so they got the following (which incidentally, is listed as a large plate, because it’s good sized) – Farro salad  – pickled onion + goat gouda + sunchokes + spring lettuces. Since it was a big salad, they passed it around, and the bites I had made me think that if I return to the Fireside (wanting to and doing are very different things) it would be great if this salad was still on the menu, so I could order one. Particularly notable was the farro, which I don’t think I’ve had in a salad before. It reminded me of a plump, chewy sunflower kernels, a delightful textural addition. Really a nice salad.

As far as larger plates, here’s what we had ….

Mussels white wine + dijon + créme fraiche + grilled bread – Very good, according to Shuhong

Burger –  aioli + pickled pepper + lettuce + cheddar + fries  + bacon – Direct quote from burger lover Julian “this is a damn good burger.”

Fireside vegetarian burger – aioli + pickled pepper + lettuce + muenster + fries – Rated by Heidi as really delicious, and both burgers came with those lip smackin fries and house ketchup. Not a step down from a meat filled burger in the least.

Beef brisket – warm potato salad + oil cured olive + parsley + watercress – This was one of those dinners when I didn’t select something in advance, so was mulling over several items, like the burger, steak, trout, pork and brisket.IMG_3508 As I wanted to have a moderately priced outing for a change, I went with the brisket (by the way, all the prices at Fireside are pretty reasonable for a relatively upscale place). David also ordered the brisket, but once he saw Julian’s burger, he was disappointed he didn’t have that. I usually make up my mind on my own, but I guess I was feeling feeble brained, as I asked the waitress which she thought was better, the brisket or the trout. She said if I was really hungry, to get the brisket (I must have had a desperate, “Need Food!” aura floating around me, as I hadn’t had lunch) which she mentioned was so tender they had stopped serving knives with it (not true, someone gave me a meat knife).

As I have mentioned endlessly before, I am not an overcooked beef fan, so even when it is supposed to be cooked that way, or needs to be cooked that way, I generally steer clear of cuts like brisket or pot roast. Consequently, my experience with brisket is somewhat limited.IMG_3510 Of all the briskets I’ve had, I must say this was the leanest one I’ve seen, and certainly this had the most unusual texture. As the waitress stated it would be, the meat was fork tender and quite moist inside. What was interesting was the surface of the brisket, it was somewhat crispy, perhaps caramelized? Anyway, another interesting texture element to the food here. David was bummed because he thought he was out camping, and expected the brisket  to come with real potato salad, not a NW Portland deconstruction of potato salad (random hunks of fingerling potatoes and other chunks under the brisket.) Thinking back, I might have enjoyed the burger more than the brisket, not that the brisket wasn’t first class, more from the perspective of my muted feelings about well-done beef and the fact that I’m sure that you could score some of that smoky ketchup with the burger.

I was with the “no dessert” gang, so I didn’t even contemplate having a sweet finale, as I knew I would be the only one interested in having any, which is embarrassing. The Fireside only had a couple of desserts anyway, S’mores (I’m sure they tasted smoky or charred) and something else, maybe a chocolate cake. So luckily I was not too devastated at missing dessert, and fortunately I had ordered the more substantial brisket rather than the less substantial trout, so I was pleasantly full (Not stuffed to the gills).

Although the tables are a bit too close for comfort (Heidi and Julian could barely move, as their chairs were jammed in right next to the people behind them) every other aspect of Fireside came across as appealing. The staff seems friendly.IMG_3509 Our waitress, who came across as down to earth, yet dignified (prematurely gray hair) was good throughout our dining experience. (Showing an interest in Restaurant Roulette, always important for a good review.) Prices were not particularly high. Someone said the restroom was good. The big greenish painting  (or whatever it is) of deer  that hangs over the dining room is relaxing, anthough the decor here is too NW Portland to imagine you are camping or sitting around a fire pit. The orangey lighting behind the bar is somewhat dramatic and really pretty to look at. It smells nice inside (not so, the hostile homeless type laying on the sidewalk around the corner, screaming at me when I was parking my vehicle and walking down the street.) All in all, an excellent addition to the Portland dining scene (yeah, we really need those, especially in the Alphabet district. Oh, well, the more the merrier, I suppose.) My only major complaint, nary a CD or rock magazine in sight.