Thursday, March 04, 2010

Olympic Ambitions

Sometimes you know you're going to like a place the instant you walk in the door. So it comes as no surprise that I felt a flood of warm feelings immediately on walking through the door of the recently opened Olympic Provisions when I saw the giant "MEAT" sign lit up like a Broadway marquee on the back wall. The brainchild of Clyde Common's Nate Tilden and co-owner (and executive chef) Jason Barwikowski, it serves as a playground for the meat-curing prowess of salumi maven Elias Cairo.

Cairo, known until recently as the sous and then head chef at Hawthorne's highly respected Castagna, came to Olympic Provisions to operate Oregon's first USDA-approved dry cure salumeria. Located in what was Portland's inner eastside produce district, it now looks to be its latest hot spot for eating and drinking. And Cairo is serious about his meat, with a window next to the kitchen that looks into the hanging meaty bits in the curing room.

On my first trip there for lunch a friend and I sampled some of those meats, mine a hot pastrami sandwich that didn't carry the label Reuben but was packed not only with warm meat but lots of fresh sauerkraut. The appetizer of fresh fried sardines and garlic aioli with chopped pickled onions on crostini were sublime, showing that these guys know how to take full advantage of what's in season.

The second trip was for a face-to-face with my fellow blogger Denise and biz exec/world traveler and fellow twitterer Nitin Khanna. (As I told Nitin, I'm old school when it comes to face time.) Deciding to dive meat first into the menu, we ordered the charcuterie plate (above right), a combination that showed off Cairo's prowess in the curing room with, clockwise from top, coppa (with white chunks), mortadella (with green bits), saucisson sec, terrine (under knife) and pork liver mousse. The plate was a collection of contrasting flavors and textures, from the meatiness of the terrine to the silken lushness of the moussse to the crunch of the peppers in the mortadella. The cured meats were surprisingly mild and a tad dry, the sec rather flavorless and the coppa almost leathery.
More surprising was the treatment of the vegetables, which you'd think would almost be an afterthought in a palace built to honor the many delicious ways to enjoy the flesh of animals. The shaved brussels sprout salad with its anchovy-rich vinaigrette (right) was something I'll be working to copy here at home and might require (many) further visits to confirm ingredients. And the complex curried roasted cauliflower with chickpeas and golden raisins (above left) was pure genius, and another dish I could devour on a regular basis.
Denise and I opted for the roasted eggplant sandwich on a bolo roll (left) that was combined with roasted red peppers and a honeyed ricotta, a nice textural combination, but I probably would have gone with a pungent goat or sheep's cheese to give it more character. Nitin's grilled cheese and mushroom on brioche was very good, the buttery brioche grilled to be crusty on the outside, and once bitten the bread almost dissolved in your mouth.

This place would be a great one to visit at several times of the day to see how its atmosphere changes as night falls, the brighter, noisier crowds at lunch giving way to the more intimate lighting in the evening. Especially if you can get the prime seats at end of the counter and toast your luck under that MEAT sign.

Details: Olympic Provisions,
107 SE Washington St. Phone 503-954-3663.


dds said...

Pork terrine is an appropriate breakfast food, right? Because you've made my stomach growl, and for a very reasonable $10.95/lb they often have it for sale, retail. Your review was spot-on. And if you ever need a guinea pig for your brussel sprout salad and cauliflower tests.....

Kathleen Bauer said...

You are always at the top of my list, my dear…thanks for the reinforcement!

SEH said...

oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Anytime, my dear, any time!