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Celebrating an anniversary with an uncertain future

Milwaukie's DaVinci's marks two years, but will have to move for MAX
by: ellen spitaleri Fresh produce is important to Heather and Felicia Molatore, owners of DaVinci’s Ristorante Italiano.

Executive chef Heather Molatore is so excited about the upcoming two-year anniversary celebration at DaVinci's Ristorante Italiano that she is auctioning herself off - well, the lucky winner of the raffle will actually win a private dinner, cooked by Molatore.

But there is another reason that Molatore and co-owner Felicia Molatore are looking forward to the event on June 3 and 4. (See sidebar.)

'A lot of people thought we wouldn't make it past the first six months, but even in this tough economy, we are still here,' Heather said.

It hasn't been easy.

When the Molatores bought the restaurant, they made quite a few changes in the menu, and some of DaVinci's original customers had 'harsh words,' about the new food items, Heather said.

But the restaurant attracted a new clientele who have been loyal, and who have come to the new DaVinci's, because of 'high quality food, reasonable prices and a good atmosphere,' Felicia noted.

Sauces from scratch

What sets DaVinci's apart from other places, Heather said, was that it is one of the only fine-dining restaurants in the Milwaukie and Oregon City area.

Also, both women noted that seasonal food items are locally raised and harvested, and organic and sustainably raised when possible. The chicken and beef are hormone free, and the seafood follows Seafood Watch regulations.

The two women go to the Milwaukie Farmers Market weekly and hand pick the fruits and vegetables used in the dishes, during the market season.

But in Italian food, it is all about the sauces, and 'my sauces are the reason people come here - they are all unique. You can't get them anywhere else,' Heather noted, adding that all the sauces are made in-house and from scratch.

'Heather likes to be creative and she even caters to allergies and gluten free' in a huge range of dishes, Felicia said.

As for favorite dishes, Heather loves to make her tenderloin with gorgonzola sauce.

Another popular item this time of the year is pasta primavera, with a rotating variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables in a creamy sauce.

Atmosphere

DaVinci's is Heather's first restaurant, and it has always been her dream to have a fine-dining establishment.

She graduated from culinary school in Cincinnati, and was taught by one of only 47 master chefs in the world. She started out as a pantry chef, and then quickly rose up the ranks; she was an executive chef for three years at the Surfrider Resort on the Oregon Coast and opened her own catering business in Corvallis before moving to the Portland area and buying DaVinci's.

The feel of the restaurant is 'personal and homey,' Heather noted, adding, 'We want customers to feel like this is their home and they are being catered to.'

Adding to the ambiance is artwork by local artists, supplied by Sharon Stevenson of Cowgirl at Heart/The Art Studio.

TriMet and the future

Although the Molatores own the business, they lease the building, which will be razed with the coming of light rail to Milwaukie.

'We have to wait for TriMet to tell us when to move; we can't just pick up and move, we have to rely on them,' Heather said.

'TriMet won't help us move until they give us a date, and we can't even look for a place to move, because they haven't told us a date,' Felicia added.

On Fridays and Saturdays, when the restaurant is at its busiest, 'it breaks my heart, because we don't know if we're going to have this in six months,' Heather said, adding that they want to stay in the Milwaukie area, because they have an established customer base.

The two women said they have become part of the community, hosting car washes, fundraisers and barbecues to benefit local sports teams.

'We've been supportive of the community, and we know the community supports us,' Felicia said.

Heather added, 'It's a shame we have to move. We're very passionate about this. It has been my dream to have a restaurant and be something different. [Our customers] know they can come here and get an experience they could get in Portland, but with local food, good customer service and for half the price.'

Fast Facts

• Celebrate DaVinci's second anniversary June 3 and 4, from 5 to 10 p.m.

• 12615 SE McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie, 503-659-3547

• Featuring: live music - Friday, June 3, renowned accordionist Russ Rossi, and Saturday, June 4, The Green Machine. There will also be prizes, specials and more. Visit www.davincisitaliano.com.