Monday, January 3, 2011
Diversion: PDX/OLYMPIC PROVISIONS
Olympic Provisions is the quintessential Portland restaurant of 2010. A snarky, understated, bare-bones celebration of carnivorey. (M)EAT flashes in marquis block letters as you enter through the old fashioned wooden door, past the meat hook coast hangers on the painted wall, and into the cement-floored, bare-beamed, garage-like "dining room". A long counter separates the cooking from the eating, but because of the limited number of tables and inescapable no-reservations policy, you're as likely as not to catch a seat there, which puts you about two and half feet away from your meal throughout its preparation. As an added bonus, you can ogle the chefs' exquisite tatooage, another Portland standard. There is also a narrow communal table towards the far end, but it stands chairless, as will you if you opt to dine there. Now, I'm all for minimalism, but I do like to be seated to enjoy my meal. I can eat standing up at the kitchen counter at home (though probably rarely this well), which made the bar a more appealing option.
There are no cocktails (probably that would be deemed a little frou-frou for this restaurant/market), but the wine list is positively enormous. I was drawn to an unfamiliar Picpoul de Pinet solely by the way the charming name rolled off the tongue, and our super-friendly, highly knowledgeable and helpful server recommended it as well. Coincidentally, the word means "lip-stinging", because of it's voluptuous lemony tartness. I could not stop saying the name all night. We started off with a cute little plate of pickly things: some ribs of rhubarb which made nice finger food, sweet bread and butter chips, crunchy onions and traditional cornichons. They're a good balance for the rich little bites of cheese and a variety of salumi and charcuterie listed individually for making up a personalized antipasto-type starter. A side of cold, citrus-spiked beets came next, teamed with chunky green olives and buttery quartered avocados. These were the best of the veggie dishes on hand that evening, the rest of which failed to enjoy the same indulgent love as the cooked dishes and meats. Brussels sprouts were a bit disappointing, frankly: a voluminous haystack of leafed-out sprouts mingling with more of those olives and juicy thin slices of sunchoke dressed with anchovy vinaigrette. It was a perfectly acceptable salad, admittedly, but unexpectedly raw, and thus dousing all the anticipation of the deeply roasted, hearty little cabbages I was jonesing for. We had considered also a side of lacinato kale, but upon its deliverance to another diner, saw that it, too, was a raw chiffonade and opted against. I guess one could appreciate the minimalist preparations as a refreshing counter to the more substantial courses, but I found them wanting. Notably, I now see some more interesting options under the Vegetable Dish section of the menu online, like braised turnips and seared leeks, but none were on offer that night. Perhaps the chef read my mind.
On a higher note (like, Mt. Hood high) comes the kitchen's proficiency with meat and heat. Rich, stewed octopus in tomatoey sauce thick with beans and bacon arrived steaming from its earthenware bowl. I wanted more bread for the sauce.... as well as just more of the dish, period, even though it was of reasonable proportions. Just as wonderful was a meaty sugo topped with crisped cubes of firm polenta and a generousshaving of grana. Speaking of proportions, this was an inverted take on a traditional polenta al sugo, featuring the saucy meat (meaty sauce?) and using the humble cornmeal as an accoutrement. Our server recommended just two dishes per person, but looking back, I think that didn't include the vegetable ones, and I felt like I definitely had room for more food after what we ordered here. I saw the roasted cod destined for someone else's plate, as well as a ground lamb with Moroccan flavors, that I would definitely return for. Even a chicken with braised greens, beans, lemon and chile would warrant a repeat visit, and that is CHICKEN. I never order chicken. But it looked amazing. Instead, we utilized our remaining appetite to enjoy a delightful citrus tart, plump with lemon curd in a buttery crust and topped with impossibly juicy wedges of grapefruit and mandarin orange, and festively sprinkled with glimmering pomegranate seeds. Another tempting option was a scoop of dense black walnut ice cream, served affogato-style in a warmed vin santo... that just might serve as dessert if and when I get back to order that chicken.
107 SE Washington St.
Portland, OR 97214