Olympic Provisions cures the meat craving
Bread and Brew
Olympic Provisions is more than a restaurant. It's also less. Who ever heard of a restaurant that is closed on Saturday night?
You might call it a wine bar. The menu offers small savory plates of food and the wine list has breadth and personality.
Or you might call it the commissary for the Olympic Mills Commerce Center near the waterfront on Southeast Washington Street, the ambitiously refurbished cereal mill where the restaurant anchors one corner. During the day, other tenants of the building can brunch on Moroccan eggs with couscous and fried eggplant sandwiches.
Olympic Provisions also is Oregon's first USDA-certified meat-curing facility, giving them the legal ability to sell their house-cured meats to other shops and restaurants. For now, there's a small deli counter in the restaurant, with the first batches of salami and pancetta still aging in the storeroom.
Despite the wholesale ambitions, the small menu of hot and cold dishes, served in a cozy dining room, is no afterthought. There are as many vegetable as meat dishes, and fish, when I tried it, was prepared as meticulously as if fish were the spot's claim to fame.
Sweet carrot salad
Still, you don't walk into a room that smells this smoky and meaty without being drawn to the house charcuterie board. The night I ordered it, it included slices of two different types of dry salami-style cured sausages, both musky, chewy and firm. There was also a smooth pork liver mousse and an especially good country pork terrine with pistachios that was perfectly suited to sides of rustic mustard, pickled onions, and cornichons sharp with vinegar.
We also tried a rabbit ballantine, a preparation in which the animal is boned, stuffed with pate and rolled up tight, to be sliced in layered rounds. It was a little bland, although it is cleverly served with a sweet carrot salad. (What's up, doc?)
Barramundi, a fish common in Australia and Thailand, is seared, and its flavor brought out with chorizo and pickled red peppers.
Escarole is used for a Caesar-like salad, and other vegetable dishes show a North African influence: roasted cauliflower with chickpeas and sumac; beets with pistachios and mint; a salad of oranges with olive oil and rosewater.
Desserts are straightforward. Blood orange ice cream is topped with a gentle milk chocolate sauce. Pound cake, sweet and simple, is paired with a shivery lemon curd.
Worth the hassle
A small cocktail list offers traditional aperitifs like Lillet Blanc and a Negroni served 'right or wrong.' 'Right' is the classic drink of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, while 'wrong' substitutes sparkling wine for the gin, creating a scintillating stimulant for the appetite.
There's also sherry, which makes me think some cheese would be nice. So would a wider choice of whiskeys.
Crowd-pleasing is not on the menu. Olympic Provisions does what it does well, without much regard for expectations. Take the location: the area is creepy and deserted at night, and a chaotic obstacle course of double-parked trucks during the day.
Around noon, it's impossible to find a parking place, and yet you must, because the ham sandwich is worth any amount of hassle.
The house-made ham is wonderfully fatty and smooth, neither as salty nor as sweet as ham can be, allowing more pork flavor to remain. It's on a fresh, chewy baguette, with house-made pickles, mustard and butter. I could eat one every day - or at least five days a week, and maybe six starting at the end of March, when the business plans to extend its hours into Saturday.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday, closed Saturday-Sunday, 107 S.E. Washington St., 503-954-3663, www.olympicprovisions.com, small plates $5-$10