Saturday, 22 December 2012

Eating Around / Olympic Provisions

Olympic Provisions SE on SE Washington St. in Portland

Portland is a food town, local food is akin to a religious phenomena there.  A few years ago, when the the travelling pig extravaganza Cochon 555 visited Portland, a local chef got into a fist-fight with the organizer of the cook-off because some of the pigs used in the cook-off were not locally sourced.  There was a broken leg, a concussion and the police had to use pepper spray and a taser to break up the fight.  Portland people are very serious about local food.

For a city of its size there are uncommonly many cutting edge restaurants.  In addition to the restaurants, there are excellent specialty food shops, high end grocery stores and innovative food carts everywhere.  Safeway in Laramie is only a poor second cousin to those same stores in Portland. Whenever we travel there we try to find the time and money to eat a meal cooked by someone else, someone who is hopefully more skilled at the stove than we.  This time we went to Olympic Provisions SE on SE Washington Street in Portland.  The chef at OPSE is Alex Yoder. According to their web-page, they were Portland's first salumeria - specializing in charcuterie and cured meats with a menu inspired by rustic Spanish and Mediterranean cooking.  In Portland, if you want excellent European style charcuterie you don't import it (you might get beat up) you make your own, and that's just what they do at OPSE.  You can see the meats hanging in a cure room behind the main counter.

Note window into the meat curing room.

The restaurant itself is a modern loft space in a old renovated building.  Having spent part of my youth in NYC renovating lofts in SoHo when it was still the art district, I am a sucker for these industrial spaces. With the high ceilings the space initially feels large, but it's not really. The dining area is narrow giving it an intimacy that feels just about right for sharing a meal.

Olympic Provisions menu - 22 December 2012

The dinner menu was perhaps not quite as interesting as I might have liked but the wine menu was exceptionally so. There were five adults and two children in our party.  Among the five of us we shared two bottles of wine. One was a nice Chardonnay from Jura: Domaine Labet “Fleurs” Côtes du Jura, 2010. We also shared a very special red from Provence, a bottle of Domaine Tempier, Bandol, 2008.  This is the wine made by the Peyraud family.  Lulu's Kitchen at Domaine Tempier has been extensively written about by food writer Richard Olney, wine importer Kermit Lynch, American chef and doyenne of the local food movement Alice Waters, iconoclastic food writer John Thorne and writer/poet gourmand Jim Harrison.  Lulu is an instinctive cook, never measuring ingredients but working by taste and feel; Richard Olney recorded her recipes and introduced her to America.

Domaine Tempier 2008
The wait-staff was knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. The children happily supped on frankfurters and fries (not on the menu).  Among the adults, we shared a charcuterie French Board which I insisted we order, mainly for the rillettes.  Rillettes are a kind of potted meat - usually pork but also made with other meats as well: duck, hare, salmon. If you've not had them, think of a home-made version of deviled ham.  The rillettes were fine and the salamis and other items on the board were very good.  I have tried my own hand at making cured sausages and the result, while not bad, was nothing like this. We shared a lot of the food - I tried the Baby Octopus that Tom ordered - it had an rich chickpea and aioli sauce that smelled and tasted of the sea  - a discordant note to the other flavors I was enjoying. I ate most of a Belgian endive salad which was light, sweet and refreshing and not something I would have made myself - I might try to duplicate it at home soon.  Others at our table enjoyed the braised cardoons but I did not taste them.  I also ate the braised short rib, a favorite of mine. It was delicious with a rich thick slightly sweet gravy but was no better than I make at home.

All-in-all we had a very good meal with exceptional wines.  With so many interesting places to eat in Portland I'm not thinking I'll be heading right back - though on our next visit we might just buy a selection of Olympic Provisions charcuterie as a prelude to a home cooked meal.  Mainly, when I go out to a restaurant like this I hope to eat something astounding, something I'd never though of or that I can not easily reproduce at home. Though the food was very good - I did not really find that at Olympic Provisions. I enjoyed a very good meal with family in nearly perfect space served by a competent wait staff.

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