Early Slurps at Olympia Oyster Bar

The latest addition to Portland’s oyster scene brings cocktail talent and gussied bivalves.

By Benjamin Tepler January 6, 2016

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One of Olympia's "dressed" oyster offerings with pomegranate, serrano, ginger, toasted quinoa, and micro basil

When did Portland become an aspiring oyster city? With the exception of the Northeast, every quadrant in the city has its own dedicated temple to oyster cookery, from Roe’s thrice rebranded B&T Oyster Bar to North Portland’s EaT. The new Olympia Oyster Bar on North Mississippi rides the wave, hoping to elevate the humble bivalve even further with its Asian and Mexican-inspired small plates. 

If you’re familiar with the Portland restaurant aesthetic, Olympia’s interior needs no further description, except for the room’s piece of oyster-shaped rope art (which seems destined for a cameo in a Jeff Goldblum Portlandia special). The main stage is the small bar, looking like a miniature version of Seattle’s The Walrus and the Carpenter, holding a curved, ornate ice chest of craggy half-shells, Hama Hamas to Netarts (on a recent menu, the restaurant’s namesake oyster was nowhere to be seen).

Also behind the bar is Ryan Magarian, the notable co-owner and bar man at Oven & Shaker and Hamlet, who skillfully shakes up a short list of classic cocktails and pours glasses of sparkling wine with aplomb. Trust the house to curate a dozen “chef’s choice” oysters ($1 extra), let Magarian work his magic, and you’ll be in heaven.

Beyond the basics, Olympia’s menu is difficult to navigate, organized by “raw, naked, dressed, ‘the world is your oyster,’ and delicatessen.” Rather than go the chowder house route, Olympia dives into international small plates, with ponzu and amaranth steelhead tartare and the “kataifi,” an oyster baked in a tangle of Middle Eastern phyllo, smoked avocado puree, and micro-cilantro. It looks like Cthulhu, but nicely balances a trifecta of spicy, sweet, and crunchy. The most substantial dish on the menu, the Veracruzan chilpachole, is part Mexican sopa, part pumpkin pie, with deep baking spices that warm the soul and baffle the palate.

Olympia is still experimenting with its menu; still forming an identity. At its core, it’s an earnest oyster joint with a creative vision and expertly made classic cocktails. And that’s great for the Mississippi neighborhood. But if the kitchen can find its voice in a city of oyster lovers and hone its meandering menu, Olympia could be much more.

Olympia Oyster Bar
4214 N. Mississippi Ave.
Tues-Sat: 4–10 pm
Sun: 10 am–3 pm

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