Gimlet-eyed Olive or Twist

by Christina Melander
The Oregonian A&E - December 9, 2005

After pulling the last icy sip off a gimlet, it was time for something mellow. "May I see your wine list?" I asked.

"We actually don't serve wine," the server replied. "We're confident that our martinis are delicious enough."

Well, then.

Gin absolutism aside, Pearl District new-corner Olive or Twist caters to guests with prompt service and dishes that range from sesame cashews to a fist-sized pork chop. The menu percolates with esoteric creations, such as seafood seviche garnished with a scoop of sugary ginger granita. And unlike more happening bars nearby, Olive or Twist doesn't attract limos full of inebriated size 2's in low-slung denim.

A bar menu and more ambitious dining menu offer some bargains but also a few land mines. Smoked salmon carbonara mixes in snap peas and crunchy almonds to contrast with the velvety noodles and flaky salmon. That pork chop, served with cranberries and quinoa, is juicy and satisfying. A trio of panini (try the chicken with fontina) ring in at just $9. Pineapple Madagascar, a sweet-hot dessert in which the fruit is coated in crushed green peppercorns, sauteed and served with vanilla ice cream, is not to be missed.

Give a pass to bruschetta, which resembles a French-bread pizza with tough salami; an indelicate eggplant napoleon; and the boring finale of sliced oranges surrounding a well of sage honey, overpriced at $5.

Martinis, especially extravagant concoctions like the Peruvian - pepper vodka, mango puree, and key lime juice garnished with floating habaneros - deliver a sultry kick. Bartenders are less skilled at preparing classics: an Old Fashioned, typically a caramel bomb of a drink, was watery. Stick with Olive or Twist's prized martinis, though, and you'll consider yourself well in.

925 N.W. 11th Ave.; 503-546-2900. Hours: 4-11 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.

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