An Olympic cure for dull eats
Bread and Brew
I was sitting in Olympic Provisions Northwest, when, despite the jazz playing in the background, the song 'You Didn't Have to be So Nice,' by the Lovin' Spoonful, started running through my head. At the moment, a waitress was showing uncommon patience with a demanding customer, but really, this could be the Olympic Provisions theme song.
Olympic Provisions is the only USDA certified pork dry curing facility in Portland, so it is, necessarily, the best USDA certified pork dry curing facility in Portland. But OP consistently goes above and beyond. In 2009 the company launched a line of excellent salamis that have quickly won a place on almost every wine bar charcuterie plate in town. At the same time it also opened a very nice restaurant in industrial southeast, and began serving the best ham sandwiches that I ever hope to eat.
OP expanded to a second location this April, in industrial northwest, in the building that used to shelter the high-end restaurant Carlyle.
In addition to being a meat processing facility, the new spot is a retail outlet and restaurant. They didn't have to get creative here, but they did. Chef Erin Williams brings an Italian tone to the pithy menu: mussels in salami broth, fennel and orange salad, polenta.
Naturally, you'll want to start dinner with some charcuterie. The chef's choice board is generous, except for the bread - why is that so common? The rillettes are good, the pork and pistachio terrine is better, and the pork mousse is the best. Fluffy and yet substantial, creamy yet meaty, the mousse is well matched by house-made pickles, plump raisins and grainy mustard.
The board also holds two kinds of dry cured salamis: a mellow loukanika seasoned with cumin, garlic and orange zest, and a chorizo rioja, which is September's 'salami of the month.'
With garlic, paprika and oregano, the chorizo rioja has a flavor that unfurls across the tongue, starting with a surprisingly juicy texture, and gradually rolling out its meat and spice to a bright paprika finish. The recipe comes from the Rioja region in Spain, where the red wine of the same name is produced, and you can almost smell the hot Spanish breeze blowing through wild oregano.
Dedicated to craft
This is just the beginning: bold, evocative flavors continue through the meal, whether or not cured meat is involved.
A big bowl of fresh chorizo, poached tuna and white poncha beans was a peasant dish fit for a king. A seared Basque pepper and slices of the chorizo rioja added to the overall effect, and at the end, the bowl held a complex, fishy, spicy, meaty broth.
House-made pasta is super fresh and springy. On a hot day, it was served with melon, tomato and crème fraiche, and a few days later, when the weather had turned, with a beef sugo that was almost gamey, salty and sweet. Aromas preceded the bowl to the table, from a mix of roughly shredded fresh parsley, basil and mint on top, and it was all bound together with creamy chunks of goat cheese.
The centerpiece of the kitchen is a big red antique rotisserie. It's not just for looks. Chickens, served whole or halved, are perfectly cooked. Their smooth skin has the sheen of a bagel and the careful burnish of a marshmallow toasted by the most obsessive kid at camp. The flesh, brined but not otherwise seasoned, is not so much juicy as silky.
For dessert there's something called chocolate salami (chocolate and nuts, sliced in thin rounds), seasonal fruit compositions, and on a hot night, a particularly light and cooling take on tiramisu, with candied lemon peel.
Cocktails, also refreshing, include a Pimm's cup and a mixture of fruit juice, lemonade and gin. The beer selection is severely limited. Much more thought has been given to the wine, with a solid by-the-glass selection and lots of bottles. Wine is also available by the 'quartino,' enough for two to share.
The scene is casual, with tables arranged on both sides of the central deli counter. Friday night brought a small crowd, but no wait for a table. I almost don't want to spread the word.
But at the same time, Olympic Provisions is exactly the kind of place I would recommend to a visitor who wanted a solid example of what makes Portland such a good place to eat. It's out-of-the-way, unfussy, with a dedication to craftsmanship for its own sake, whether or not it's strictly necessary.
Olympic Provisions Northwest, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, 1632 N.W. Thurman St., 503-894-8136, www.olympicprovisions.com, entrees $14-$26