While cooking at home for his partner, Bay Area food and beverage scene expat Morgan Schick would often make a quick mid-week version of a tortilla Española: In place of the thinly sliced potato often found in the large, crustless omelet, he uses tater tots, for an easy, low-stakes, and tasty dinner.
At Grape Ape — his wine bar, opening Wednesday, May 3 in Southeast Portland — Schick serves a similar version of the dish alongside low-ABV spritzes and Oregon-grown wines. Slices of the “tot-illa,” as he calls it, arrive dusted in a snowy pile of shaved Manchego, hiding the oven-crisped tots within.
The dish adds to the Bizarro World Basque wine bar vibe of Grape Ape. The sliver of a space, around 700 square feet, has all the trappings of a Spanish tapas bar, with noticeable twists. The art on the walls include illustrations of apes on surfboards and motorcycles. The house vermouth is a blend of rosé, strawberry, and savory herbs like tarragon. The kitchen’s wink at pulpo gallego involves octopus with Japanese potato salad. For Schick, the idea is to capture the lowkey vibe of the tiny pintxo bars he encountered in Bilbao, Spain, while making sure the bar feels like it could exist anywhere.
Originally, Schick had planned on making most of the food himself, but he ended up stumbling upon a natural fit for the kitchen. José Sabas grew up in restaurants owned by his father — taco shops and Mexican bakeries — before developing a passion for the high-end cooking of places like Wildair and the Four Horsemen. The chef cooked his way around the world, living everywhere from Melbourne to Berlin, before eventually landing at G-Love in Portland. After spotting the job listing on Poached, he reached out to Schick. “I like the minimalism of the space, the more casual gastronomy,” Sabas says.
Sabas took the bar’s working menu and “made it more interesting,” in Schick’s words. “He’s able to show what you can achieve with the space we have and the equipment we have,” the owner says. The menu focuses on dishes that can be prepped in advance as much as possible: Cafe Olli bread, toasted and topped with Duke’s mayo and marinated white beans; chicken liver pate with hot honey. And, true to an Oregon restaurant, menus will change seasonally depending on what Oregon farmers have in stock, and what’s made nearby. For instance, a spring salad with vegan tahini ranch will use local radishes and lettuces while they’re in season; mixed rabes with fermented chile use produce available at places like Groundwork Organics. The cheese plates rely on choices from neighborhood cheese shop Cowbell.
Like the food menu, the wine list includes a number of Oregon producers, like the Marigny, Hooray for You, and Bow & Arrow, as well as French, Italian, Portuguese, and Californian glass pours. But Schick wanted the drink menu to involve more than straight glasses of wine. For instance, Grape Ape offers a number of low-proof cocktails, including a carbonated take on a Bamboo and a pineapple-sherry daiquiri. The house vermouth can arrive on the rocks, in soda, or in an Americano.
The space itself is all Schick, who also founded a restaurant industry creative firm. Pops of purple and emerald green appear throughout the tiny bar, which also retains some of the features of the converted warehouse in which Grape Ape resides. Diners can crowd around the dark-hued bar, or sit at one of the space’s few tables. Wine bottles line the wall to the east, emphasizing the bar’s retail side — Grape Ape will open at 11 a.m. as a wine shop and casual lunch spot, before transitioning into wine bar service in the evenings.
“I wanted to lean into the bar side, as opposed to the wine side of a wine bar,” Schick says. “Not too fancy, not too precious.”
Grape Ape is open at 77 SE Yamhill Street.