Alpenrausch Brings Swiss-Inspired Dining to Southeast Portland

Olympic Provisions sausage maker Elias Cairo pays tribute to learning his trade in the Swiss Alps village of Wildhaus.

Alpenrausch (Chris Nesseth)

The hopping intersection of Southeast Division Street and 34th Avenue has long been a culinary hot spot, with popular staples like Lauretta Jean’s, Ava Gene’s, Salt & Straw and, once upon a time, Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok just a couple blocks away. The southwest corner lot in particular has been home to multiple concepts—Ricker’s Sen Yai in the mid-2010s, then a series of attempts by Nate Tilden of meat purveyors Olympia Provisions, including the short-lived Honky Tonk Tacos, the casual OP Wurst, and the elevated Olympia Provisions Public House. Perhaps it was the expansive patio space in a town where it rains half the year, but none quite won over enough people to last long.

Now OP’s Elias Cairo has given the space a significant face-lift with Alpenrausch, a new concept that serves as a love letter to the sausage maker’s formative years learning his craft in the Swiss Alps village of Wildhaus. Modeled on the idea of après ski—unwinding after a day on the slopes—this run, while mostly smooth, comes with a few moguls.

Stroll into Alpenrausch and you’re greeted by the warming smells of smoked meats wafting about a redesigned Wes Anderson-set-meets-European-ski-lodge space that’s cozy and hip.

On my visits to Alpenrausch, I enjoyed the small plates and snacks even if I found that sharing the dishes with more than two friends meant little more than a bite for each of us. You’ll be fighting over hunks of the soft Bavarian pretzel ($9) to dip in fonduta, or the addictive fried balls of ham-and-cheese nostalgia croquettas ($12), with tiny cubes of landrauchschinken nestled in cheesy potato filling perfect for dipping in creamy mustard aioli. Escargot ($16) is an exercise in decadence, with the herb-laden butter baptizing the snails in fatty delight that’s perfect for dunking the crusty baguette. I found myself practically licking the plate of the venison tartare ($18), with crunchy bread acting as a toboggan for the raw meat dotted with capers, a light snowfall of peppery horseradish, and runny egg yolk to make for a remarkably balanced dish.

Alpine classics like fondue ($39 serves two to three; $69 serves four to five) will surely entice you but skew on the small side (if you want to go all in on fondue, you might as well embrace the novelty of a place like The Melting Pot in downtown Portland). I was smitten with the fun and romantic presentation of the candlelit raclette ($15) before I discovered it was a deceptively tiny piece of cheese.

Large plates are generously portioned even if not all offerings always stick the landing. Venison nach Jäger Art ($35) is an Alpine take on steak frites with cognac cream sauce, smoky nuggets of lardon and the slight crunch of croutons all complementing the tender meat. This was easily one of the best things I ate during my visits.

Unfortunately, other entrees came up short, not quite ascending to Alpine heights. For instance, the chewiness of the duck breast ($32) couldn’t be salvaged by the rich tang of the cherry jus.

Given the pedigree of Olympia Provisions when it comes to all things pork, I had high hopes for the Schnitzel à la Holstein ($24), a kind of classic 19th century pub dish traditionally made with veal. Even the flawless golden fry job couldn’t save what felt like it would have been better between two buns as a Midwest pork tenderloin sandwich, with the capers and anchovies poorly equipped to do the heavy flavor lifting for a rather bland piece of meat.

The team behind Alpenrausch describes its namesake as a “tingling sensation that comes from the crisp air…but it also means a drink’s effect—the rush of a good feeling from alcohol, a buzz.” Giving us a buzz is surely a priority for Cairo and his team, as they loaded the menu with a dizzying amount of schnapps, alpine spirits and digestifs (ice luge coming soon!). The wine list also impresses, leaning as expected toward Germany and Austria—but the cocktails are what pulled me in. The ALP’tini ($18) delivered a refreshing mintiness akin to taking a deep breath of Swiss mountain air, and the Fabian’s Old Fashioned ($14) packed a bold punch with the Nux Alpina walnut liqueur giving it a distinct nuttiness.

Will Alpenrausch be the concept that finally sticks in this space? There are certainly a few bright spots on the menu, and the service was excellent on my visits, but it seems the OP team still needs to focus on making this a smooth run. They now do lunch and happy hour, giving you the chance to casually ski in, ski out.

EAT: Alpenrausch, 3384 SE Division St., 503-384-2259, 4–9 pm Monday–Thursday, 11:30 am–10 pm Friday–Saturday, 11:30–9 pm Sunday.

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