Oliver’s Twist, a drinks and bites bar recently opened on Greenwood Avenue up on Phinney Ridge, was named after the owners’ young son Oliver. Presumably he’s more fortunate than his Dickensian namesake, whose ragtag friends show up all over Oliver’s Twist’s rather creative house drink menu.
There’s the Fagin martini, my first choice, which rolls vodka, lemon, cucumber, and just the right amount of Pernod together for a crisp, refreshing, blue-tinged number that I’ll be coming back for time and time again in warm weather. The rest of the house list is also named after Dickens characters – there’s the Mr. Sowerberry, the Artful Dodger, the Charlie Bates … all delicious, I’m sure, but tell me this: how many of us want to get out of the house, meet our friends in a swish new bar with richly brown- and orange-painted walls, and draw direct comparisons between our posh, overlucky lives and those of the lawless boys living in the dirty squalor of 19th century London? I mean, the names ARE cute, and witty, but in my humble opinion, a little oblivious. Fagin was a thief, which had nothing to do with my drink. How about naming the flowery Mr. Sowerberry martini something like Phinney’s Flower, after the neighborhood, rather than after an undertaker? The whole Charles Dickens theme might make sense if the owners offered up their profits Jamie Oliver-style to boys from rough backgrounds, but I haven’t heard any such thing.
Oooh, and I did wish there had been a twist on the rim of my glass.
Despite my initial bristling, I loved Oliver’s Twist. The menu – a series of bites categorized by price – is perfect for snacking, but enough for dinner, if you’re willing to be creative about what defines your day’s biggest meal. Start with the truffle and garlic popcorn, no matter how boring you think popcorn has to be, because it will change popcorn forever for you. (If, like my dear brother, you think truffles smell and taste like hot balloons, you’d best avoid OT altogether, because the whole place reeks of truffle.)
We also enjoyed the bright, oh-so-Frenchie vinaigrette on the walnut bread salad, the way the bleu cheese- and bacon-stuffed dates melted in our mouths (they were warm – unusual for stuffed dates), and how deeply stinky and gooey the Mt. Townsend camembert was, perfect paired with a tart, sweet quince jam. The pizette were like cracker pizzas, shattering in our mouths with each anchovy-blessed bite. Each plate had only a few bites, as anticipated, leaving us with the original Oliver’s damning question: Please, sir, may I have another?
We made it through the red wine list between the three of us, and each of us courted our favorites, insisting that mine/his/hers was the best wine we’d ever had, etc. I wondered why they’d arranged the reds from darkest to lightest, instead of the opposite (more typical) arrangement.
Unfortunately, OT’s service didn’t nearly match up with the creative drinks, solid wine choices, and lively (and rather pork-centric) food. Our waitress had the positive qualities that are hardest to find in a good waitress—good humor, grace, friendliness, and a welcoming smile—but she lacked the basics. Our drinks took forever to arrive, and were alternately delivered by the host and bartender, so the staff never knew who got what. The waitress failed to tell us about the 86 list (they were out of two of the twelve menu items, and of course I HAD to pick those two; who wouldn’t want to try tomato cappuccino with grilled cheese?). She repeatedly forgot our orders, and missed our dessert order entirely (we went without). She had only tried one of the drinks on the menu, and couldn’t tell us much more about the food – she made some excuse about missing the training day. I think I’ll assume that Oliver’s Twist will eventually train her correctly (they’d only been open four days), and hope that she’s being fed more before her shift than Dickens’s little workers.
My advice: train the staff better, buy more food, and distract me enough so that I’m not mired in thoughts of poor pickpocket kids born into lives of misfortune, child labor, and starvation. In other words, I’ll go back in a few weeks, and I hope they’ve changed the drink names.
Find out more at http://www.oliverstwistseattle.com.