Chef Jamie Wilcox grew up with Italian grandparents, but she’s quick to clarify that she is not Italian. “I was born in the Pacific Northwest, and a lot of inspiration stems from that,” she says. “I do a lot of fishing and foraging and gardening, I’ve worked on a ton of farms. So I take the idea of Italian food a little loosely.”
That cultural mashup is fairly common in Portland, with the legacies of places like the late-great Genoa and grand dame Nostrana looming large over Portland’s restaurant scene. But at Tartuca — the new pasta and pizza restaurant landing in the former Radar space May 25 — the emphasis is less on identifying the origin of the cuisine, and more about its role in the neighborhood.
Tartuca comes from Jason Riley, who owns Fino Bistro & Pizzeria in Kenton, a neighborhood standby for handmade pastas and pizzas. He wanted to do something similar on Mississippi, but decided to tap some major talent to help make that possible. Riley met Jamie Wilcox while working at the now-closed Park Kitchen, before she became the chef de cuisine at Quaintrelle; when Riley began working on Tartuca, Wilcox seemed like a natural fit.
“Jamie coming from Quaintrelle, we have all these contacts at the farms, so we have this nice farm-to-table angle,” Riley says. “It’s certainly going to be a neighborhood spot first, farm and market fresh.”
Tartuca is sourcing much of its produce from farms where Wilcox has actually worked, including Canby Farm and Kitchen; Wilcox will also bring in garnishes from her own garden, as well as preserves from her pantry. For instance, the preserved lemons on a pasta dish were picked fresh at her partner’s family’s trees in Arizona, and have been aging for the last two years under her care. As it gets settled, the team will make several different vinegars and ferments in house, also preserving and curing proteins like guanciale and boquerones.
“What makes Italian food so special, what makes it what it is, is the approach,” Wilcox says. “Everyone is going to the market to get their produce every day, their bread every day, their cured meats, everything is so fresh and so seasonal — they’re working with what they have.”
This ethos will be reflected in the opening menu at Tartuca: Stephens Farm in Dayton will provide the restaurant’s rhubarb, which will land on a sorrel panna cotta as a compote. Hakurei turnips will arrive with a variety of seasonal alliums, house-made black garlic, and golden mustard seed. And the restaurant’s carbonara will get a pop of freshness from the addition of spring peas, swapping the guanciale for prosciutto. All of the pastas will be made in house, with vegan and gluten-free options, as well. Like the pastas, the pizza dough and breads will be made by the restaurant’s team, as well; the former will use a blend of Shepherd’s Grain flour, which cold-proofs for 24 hours for flavor.
Over at the bar, general manager Grant Ferguson (formerly of Arden) will be pouring glasses from a wide selection of Italian and Oregon wines, as well as barrel-aged Negronis, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds. And, in line with the kitchen’s emphasis on low-waste and Oregon produce, the bar will include some seasonal infusions for house cocktails.
The restaurant itself retains much of the charm of the original Radar space, while adding a little bit of Riley’s favorite things: Jazz will play on the speakers, and artists like Emily Kepulis and Kristen Diedrich will hang paintings on the walls of the restaurant. And in the back of the space, large wine shelves will be stocked with bottles, as if “you could just walk up and grab a bottle from the wall,” in Riley’s words. “I wanted to feel really accessible.”
Tartuca will open for lunch and dinner service at 3951 N Mississippi Avenue.