Portland's Best New Restaurants 2018: At Oui! Wine Bar, More Is More
For six years, Division Street’s Southeast Wine Collective has been a friendly base to sample eclectic vintages crafted steps away from its snug wine bar. The food? Mostly meh basics to line your stomach between sips.
Until last winter, that is, when the collective’s chef, Althea Grey Potter, finally stopped trying to make “wine bar food” and started making her food: aggressively seasoned, wholly seasonal, and one pickled raisin away from total chaos. She smuggled salty pistachios, scallions, and sweet corn into tarragon-wafting risotto so cheesy it qualifies as fondue, paired roasty carrots and sunflower butter with green garlicky confit and Beluga lentils, and posted photos of vividly plated dishes tagged #allthesquash (delicata pillars, squash hummus, harissa-laced chickpeas).
Nearly a year in, the newly dubbed Oui! Wine Bar at Southeast Wine Collective has found its niche. It’s a small haven of bottles and barrels with a bold roller coaster of dishes and unexpected pours that truly fit the food. Plus, the optional five-course, family-style tasting menu ($39 per person) is surely among the best deals in price-accelerating Portland. Take a friend, celebrate a milestone, or just wander in. Oui! demands little of you, but returns quite a bit.
Raised by back-to-the-landers in rural Massachusetts, Potter remembers “obsessively” devouring her parent’s global cookbook collection as a kid; always helping in the kitchen and organic veggie plot. This mix of enthusiastic garden love and international flavor provides a codex for her menu. That wonderful curried carrot hummus, flaunting crunches of Indian chaat snack mix, teamed with a flaky riff on Italian piadina bread? Makes perfect sense.
Potter, 35, is the ideological opposite of food minimalists who cling to the timeworn fashion rule of always taking one thing off before leaving the house. “I’ve never wanted to take that advice with my food,” she proudly confesses. “I’m like, more is more.” Exhibit A: lavish salads with enough unexpected textures and ingredients (ground-cherries, teeny cucamelons, fresh sheep’s milk cheese, entire herb gardens) to qualify as a casting call. It’s all too much. And sometimes that is exactly enough.