It took me a while to get into Olympic Provisions, the relatively new Charcuterie haven in the made-over Olympic Mills building. Construction was happening while I was working in the building, but by the time they opened I had gone off to do another project. The building itself is in an out of the way location, at the intersection of 1st and SE Washington (if you get lost, it’s the monster-sized mustard-colored building). It has something in common with clarklewis: they are the restaurant tenants for Beam Construction’s renovation of the train track straddling warehouse district. Otherwise, Olympic Provisions has little to do with their landlord-sharing brethren. OP is a simple place, with a seemingly modest goal: produce American Charcuterie.
But even a simple goal has serious obstacles. To be a licensed commercial producer of cured meats, et al, is to court government health organizations. And really, there are few things that require more patience than that.
If you’ve been to Mario Batali’s father’s place Salumi in Seattle, you know that getting a bit of the good stuff can be a real pain in the ass. At Olympic Provisions, things are far more civilized. The design of the place is a little unusual – unavoidable considering the quirks of the old building. There is a corner entrance with an our-we-going-the-right-way? feel to it; there is also an entrance inside the main doors to the building. In one corner is a vaguely lounge-y area that can be open to fresh air. A row of smaller tables run down the side wall facing the deli-style counter. But my favorite place to sit is a simple wooden plank with stools on either side that faces one of the more majestic walls of wine in town.
The first time I came into OP, I was there simply to have a glass of wine (or something) and wait for a friend to pick me up; we had other plans. When I sat down to wait, I looked at the wall and started to dissect it – as I usually do. I was instantly pleased, and soon enough, I was shocked!
This was not just a collection of wines that I thought were well-chosen; this was the wine window into my soul! Not only were some of my favorite producers there – and some of my favorite regions strongly represented – but if somebody had said to me “We want an eclectic wine list, primarily European, with a taste of the locals – as long as it fits the food”, this is a nearly perfect representation of what I might do.
Eclectic it is, but it’s also deadly smart. In the wines by the glass, they give the people what they want; it just comes in a different form. For your “Pinot Grigio”, you get the Sanz Rueda Verdejo from Spain ($7). Yes, you can have a glass of “Chardonnay”, but it will be the Perrusset Macon-Villages ($10). If you’re looking for a glass of spicy Syrah (or the like), how about a glass of Burle Vacqueyras ($10)? Feeling Italian? They break out, from the Valtellina area near Switzerland, Sertoli Salis’ “Baccalitt” ($8), a blend of local grapes that speaks directly – and intimately – to the food at hand. And for the wine nerds out there: they pour a Blaufränkisch by the glass. The line forms right here, buddy.
Just enough space is given to less-traveled regions (Switzerland, Austria) but the list firmly lays its head in the regions that really understand salumi and saucisson. If you love sausage and wine, you know there are several no-brainer combinations out there. Bandol, for instance, is a perfect match. Provence’s King of Wine is here represented in its red, rose, and white form. Is there any other place is town that has all three? Is there?
The neighboring region of Alsace is here, as well, with selections from Kuentz-Bas (Alsace Blanc, $28/btl), Bott-Geyl, and the mighty Zind Humbrecht. Germans understand a thing or two about sausage as well. The piercing focus of Schmitges’ Grauschiefer Riesling ($28 also) is mouthwatering; the spices of Ernst Loosen’s appropriately named Ürziger Würzgarten ($55) will make you rethink what it is to purposefully combine food and wine.
Italy, of course, is here. But the strong points of the country are distilled. Exotic, rich whites from the Northeast (Jermann, Vie di Romans and Pravis) are there to balance out the more conventionally outstanding, cooler-climate reds from the Piedmont (Brezza Barolo, $62, and Dolcetto, $35). More importantly – and this is true of the whole list – the obvious is bypassed by the interesting. Yes, there are Tuscan wines. But there are far more enticing choices from the Veneto, Sicily, and the Vallee d’Aoste.
The country that my eye keeps returning to on OP’s list, though, is France. There is a masterful gathering of wines from the Loire and Rhône Valleys. Wines from these regions are, by definition, not flabby and flat. There is acid and mineral and aromatics to match up with the spice and richness of the charcuterie. Likewise, the Burgundy choices have the natural astringency to make every sip and every bite make you think, as much as you feel.
It seems as though all these things were considered, every step of the way. The woman who put these wines together, part owner Carly Laws, has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about what to choose. She’s also worked with Chef Jason Barwikowski and Salumist Elias Cairo to make all these things work together so well. From the strong selection of sparkling wines and rosés, down to the (can it possibly be true?) proper use of sherry (seven kinds!) on a menu such as this. All the components were thought about – and executed well.
As you may know, Olympic Provisions is a sibling restaurant to Clyde Common. But they are very different. Whereas the Clyde is sort of high concept and oriented towards cocktails, the essence here is a casual environment with exceptional, artisanal product. I certainly find it more comfortable here.
In the end, my description of the wine list is paltry and fractional. It really is best to see it for yourself. Nowhere else in the city is the ratio of price-to-quality so high (there are several delicious $22 bottles); nowhere else does it take me so long to choose just one.
This is one of the finest places in town to have a bottle of wine and a snack. I’ll leave the exploration of the menu, and the wine list, to you.
Sexy Wine Picks: Closel Chateau des Vaults Savennières “La Jalousie” ($35), Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rosé ($48), Domaine Faury VdP Syrah “Collines Rhodaniennes” ($38)
- 107 Southeast Washington Street, Portland, OR 97214
- (503) 954-3663
- Hours: Mon -Sat, Lunch 11am-3pm, Aperitivo 3pm-5pm, Dinner 5pm-10pm
- Website: OlympicProvisions.com