A year after disastrously early hype threw Nick and Sandra Arnerich's sunny Buckman ode to Italy into disarray, Renata remains a hive of dazzling talent that can be both perplexing and rewarding in turn.
The high-raftered space—and cursive "Mi Piace" in neon that presides over it all—smacks of Napa, but the service has settled into an easy rhythm that feels local. The pizzas in particular have improved dramatically after early stumbles, attaining Neapolitan char and fine character on the margherita, which drops to $7 at happy hour.
Chef Matthew Sigler's six- to eight-deep selection of housemade pasta ($10-$22) rotates relentlessly, if also minutely—swapping, for example, the innards of its delicately pillowy agnolotti from tender pork to achingly tender beef, or changing out the pork belly and clams on a squid-ink chitarra for an octopus sugo. But on recent visits each pasta came bathed in little a too much salt, as if tasted through a sniffle of summer allergies or before adding salty cheese. It was a persistent flaw that nagged dish after dish of otherwise delicately sumptuous food.
Related: Portland's Best Pasta
And while you can certainly wine it up here, it's the cocktails that truly soared. A dining partner refused to try anything else after a $12 vodka-elderflower-strawberry drink called 2+2=5, whose floral and fruit notes were aired out with lemon and a splash of prosecco.
The bar, unsurprisingly for an Italian spot, is also Negroni-obsessed—offering a $20 flight of three with different vermouths or amaros—even going so far as to happily whip up a variant using dry local Imbue and slightly sweeter Aperol in place of Campari. The drink was a moment of cheery discovery, buoying a restaurant with a lot of baggage.
Eat: Show up at the aperitivi hour at the bar before 6 pm, and score a $7 margherita pizza and a lovely $10 salumi plate before settling into a pasta dish.
Drink: Want yet another Negroni variant? Try the Church ($12), which throws lemon into a Negroni made with Aperol and Cocchi Americano.
Most popular dish: Fried olives with trotter and Calabrian chile aioli.
Noise level: 80/100
Who you'll eat with: Middle-aged people with expensive cars who really appreciate the parking lot.
Year opened: 2015