The last time Nick Arnerich was in Portland, he was 17, working the line at Wildwood alongside old-guard chefs Cory Schreiber and Adam Sappington.
That was the late 90’s. A few decades later, Arnerich has returned to open his own Italian eatery, Renata, on the corner of Southeast Main and 7th Ave.
Plans call for a rustic regional Italian menu, rotating in provenance with Oregon’s seasons, heavy on the pasta, and loaded with local Ancient Heritage Dairy (arguably Portland’s best cheese maker).
The ambitious kitchen is helmed by Karl Holl and James Serlin (former Chef de Cuisine and Sous Chef, respectively) of San Francisco’s Perbacco Ristorante. They hope to make everything from scratch: house-cured salumi, fresh and dried pasta, along with breads and pizza (margarita and marinara only), charred in a wood-fired oven.
Renata will follow the classic antipasti, secondi, contorni marching order, with dishes, regions, and even the bread changing with the seasons (in August, flavors from Sicily and Calabria; in spring, bites from Tuscany and Umbria). This being Portland, the carb-heavy list will always come with fresh-made gluten-free options.
Arnerich has deep family ties to Central Oregon’s Ancient Heritage Dairy, so sheep’s milk cheese will be central to Renata’s ethos. Expect copious amounts of nutty Hannah cheese shaved over salads and pastas, agnolotti coated in creamy Willow Creek fondue, and a cheese centerpiece, offering wedges from the ten Ancient Heritage varieties alongside local preserves and honeys.
In front, Nick and his wife Sandra will run Renata’s 4000 square-foot dining room with 80 seats and a 25-stool bar. Both restaurant veterans come from the white tablecloth world of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in California. Nick spent six years there as Maitre d’ before running the show at San Francisco’s lauded Delfina restaurants. His take on Portland’s casual counter service and denim dress code? “I think there is room for improvement in this town…wiping down tables between courses, thoughtful acts from the kitchen, and—most important—making a connection with diners.”
Renata isn’t slated to open until summer 2014, but you can sample a taste of things to come at Renata’s pop-up dinner series, dubbed “Project Grace,” open every Friday night inside Southeast Portland’s Trinket restaurant (2035 SE Cesar E Chavez Blvd.)
Meanwhile, Arnerich promises something big is still in the works. Stay tuned.