Walk over the threshold into the Olive and Vine, and you’ll find yourself in an adorable, postcard-sized store that seems to belong to a far off, relaxed, lovely place. It feels like it’s in a small town, and long ago, before chips were silicon and drives were hard.
It has all that you need, and just enough of it: the essentials of life. Which is to say: salt and pepper, oil and vinegar, and tea. (Coffee is everywhere in Portland already, therefore unnecessary.)
Actually, the Olive and Vine is a shop in St. Johns; no need to imagine it or plan a trip to Italy. The proprietors, a married couple, opened about a year and half ago, setting aside solid careers to venture into a new world and do what they really liked, which is, as co-owner Kim puts it, “play with our food.”
That doesn’t mean regressing to toddlerdom, or Animal House-inspired food fights, but it does mean enjoying and experimenting with flavors and textures that enhance our food and our daily lives. That’s really what salt and pepper, olive oil and vinegar do, after all. (Tea is a bit different: it can wake us up, or help put us to sleep.)
The shop sources both local and exotic products in an effort to offer quality and selection. Salt, for instance, comes from the Oregon coast and from the Himalayas. The effort is also evident in the way the items are displayed: it’s easy to try them out.
Salt is out in little labeled dishes you can dip into; Kim explains that the salt itself is an anti-bacterial so it won’t transmit germs. I believe her, and try the lot of them. (I’m fine, days later. No ill effects except an elevated sodium intake for the day, probably, but it was worth it.)
Tasting the salts side by side allows even a novice to compare nuances of flavor and texture. The color and size of flakes are easy to see, of course (and not all salt is white), but the taste and feel need to be experienced in the mouth. It’s interesting and fun.
The same goes for the vinegars and oils. These are available in tincture bottles, with spoons into which to drop a taste of 15 year aged Balsamic or assorted other vinegars and olive oils. Teas appeared not to be as ready to taste-test, but are certainly smellable, and included unusual offerings. For instance, a green tea with roasted rice; evidently it is a warming, soothing sort of Asian equivalent to chicken soup.
And while the oils are available in full bottles only, most of the other items can be had in small packets that will only set you back a couple dollars, which definitely encourages playing with our food.
The Olive & Vine
8711 N. Lombard St.
Portland OR 97203
Wed.- Sat. 10am - 7pm
Sun. - 11am - 4pm