Nate Tilden and Elias Cairo, the co-owners of Portland’s nationally renowned charcuterie company Olympia Provisions, met working in the now-closed fine dining destination Castagna. Castagna was known for its high-concept tasting menu, but while they were there, the restaurant’s more casual cafe next door, Cafe Castagna, (now OK Omens) served pizza.
Both the cafe and the fine dining restaurant are gone, but Cairo and Tilden are bringing back that pizza dough at one of their two new Italian spots within the Hotel Grand Stark. Grand Amari and Little Bitter Bar — opening May 17 and May 24, respectively — will be “unapologetically traditional” in their approach to Italian food and beverage, according to a press release, serving dishes like arancini, squid ink bucatini, and salt-crusted branzino alongside Piedmontese wines and amari-spiked cocktails.
Grand Amari will transition from casual cafe to intimate Italian restaurant throughout the day, starting with Cafe Amari service from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. At the cafe, visitors will find a wide range of Italian pastries: orange blossom-almond biscotti, amaretti cookies, brioche bomboloni filled with lemon curd, pistachio cornetti (sort of like Italy’s answer to a croissant). The bakery will sell two tarts: torta della nonna, an egg custard tart, and torta caprese, an Italian flourless chocolate-almond cake-like dessert. Savory offerings at Cafe Amari will include nettle frittatas, Olympia Provisions mortadella panini, and antipasti like carrots marinated in balsamic or farro-tuna salad.
When dinner begins at Grand Amari, meals transition into the fare of a classic ristorante, with a full menu of spuntini, antipasti, pastas, and proteins. Meals start with things like house-baked focaccia, scallop crudo, and arancini, before graduating to heartier starters like vegetables with bagna cauda, seasonal fritto misto with garlic aioli, and — naturally — Olympia Provisions salumi. Pastas include many of the classics: cacio e pepe, here served with the Southern Italian candle-shaped pasta candele; spaghetini pomodoro; squid ink bucatini with whole bay shrimp; tortelli with ricotta and sage. For something a little wilder, the restaurant serves a Piedmontese agnolotti with mortadella espuma in a trotter-Parmesean brodo. Larger proteins also include a few hits straight out of a ’90s New York Italian restaurant, including a take on pork Milanese, porcini-encrusted steak, and salt-crusted branzino.
Cocktails at Grand Amari, naturally, will rely heavily on Italian herbal liqueurs, like an Old Fashioned made with Sfumato or martinis with a hint of Finocchietto. The wine list is heavily Italian, with things like Sicilian skin contact grecanico, Barbaresco, and natural sparkling wine from Emilia-Romagna. The restaurant also offers a few Portland-brewed beers.
The adjoining cocktail lounge, Little Bitter Bar, will open a week after Grand Amari, serving spritzes, antipasti like fritto misto and grilled focaccia, and the Cafe Castagna pizza. The pizzas will be baked in an imported Italian dome deck oven, served alongside Olympia Provisions charcuterie — a breezy tour through Cairo and Tilden’s culinary history together.
Grand Amari and Little Bitter Bar are both located within the Hotel Grand Stark, located at 509 SE Grand Avenue. The former has begun accepting reservations.