Classic Cocktails and French Whites Await at Olympia Oyster Bar

Maylin Chavez and Melissa Mayer opened Olympia Oyster Bar at the end of 2015. It was the final opening in a slew of restaurant debuts last year, and it is a welcome addition. The goal is simple: Pacific oysters, presented as perfectly as possible. Likewise, the cocktail menu, designed by bar consultant and cocktailer extraordinaire, Ryan Magarian, is an exercise in simplicity.  
 
Magarian, whose other credits in Portland include Oven & Shaker and Hamlet, is an industry veteran of 20 some years. He’s a writer, radio host, restaurateur, consultant, and distiller (his spirit: the widely renowned Aviation Gin). And while he serves as a consultant to many bars nation-wide, he generally declines consulting with Portland bars. Olympia Oyster Bar is the exception, though he prefers to label it as “a friend lending a hand”. He’s not fully engaged, but wrote the menu and staffed it with his own personally trained bartenders.
 
The menu was originally conceived as innovative, original cocktails. However, after Ryan saw the straight-forward, pure food menu, he adjusted to the “reality of the menu”. Now, the drink menu is an extension of the kitchen’s and is inhabited entirely by classic drinks.
 
When developing a menu full of classics the trick is to “nail them”. Luckily, that’s largely accomplished here. The bulk of the drinks are citrus based, offering the necessary acid to pair with the oysters, such as the crowd pleasing Brown Derby, a mixture of Elijah Craig 12 Year, grapefruit juice, and just a dash of honey syrup to enliven it. Others rely on only spirits and zest: The Martini, made with Plymouth gin, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters, is revelatory, as is the Manhattan, with Elijah Craig Bourbon, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. As surprising as the vermouth choice in the latter might be, it works remarkably well. Both drinks are fully integrated and rise above the sum of their parts. The rest of the menu, which is certain to rotate seasonally, is full of similarly bright, fresh drinks with bubbles, acid, and zest to compliment whatever oysters you choose. 

Simon Lowry is the “wine ambassador” at Olympia, guiding guests through the exemplary, yet accessible, wine list curated by owners Chavez and Mayer. Wine and sparkling wines take precedence and there is an emphasis on Old World wines, particularly from Lowry’s home country of France, and specifically from the Loire Valley. Muscadet, sancerre, Champagne, and cava all pair elegantly with the shellfish. But there are new world wines as well, including the always excellent Gruet Sparkling Rosé which hails from, shockingly, New Mexico. There are also a few red wines, including an Oregon pinot noir from a Californian winemaker, Siduri Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Like the Manhattan, the red wine pairs surprisingly well with oysters, even the raw ones. 

Olympia is a risky venture; almost the entire menu is oysters, with few larger plates for full meals. It’s definitively a bar, with an emphasis on having drinks and wine paired with your plates of oysters, though it closes at 10 PM. But the ambience strikes a balance between homey and chic; the staff is clearly invested, friendly, and professional, working as a transparent team shucking oysters directly in front of guests; and the beverage menu works in harmony with the food, both already excellent but even better together.


Olympia Oyster Bar, 4214 N Mississippi St.; 503-841-6316

Photos by Alexander Frane

 


Tags: Cocktails, Food, Spirits, Wine
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