It seems to me that we are swinging around the calendar at breakneck speed. Summer fun is a distant memory, autumn has nearly evaporated, and we’re heading into the season of food and festivities when all God’s creatures gain weight to make it through slimmer winter pickings. Don’t get me wrong though — I’m not complaining. I lost another good friend recently and shockingly just as an additional reminder that every day is a gift, however fast the days fly by.
You may have read the small notice in last week’s Chinook Observer about the death of builder and finish carpenter Greg Yorke. He completely rebuilt the Ocean Park home of friends of mine, turning a tiny, typical beachy cottage into a beautiful and imminently livable home. His creative ideas are everywhere visible in their project: from the clerestory windows he added in the master bedroom; to the rustic barn-style kitchen door he made from reclaimed timber. Greg was nothing if not a perfectionist. His untimely death was a shock to us all. Here’s a tip of the hat to you, buddy, wherever you’ve landed. We miss you.
Now, for the eatery news of the season: not long after Nanci Main was closing the doors on Nanci and Jimella’s Café and Cocktails in Klipsan, chef Paul Klitsie was scheming about his own fine dining restaurant in Ocean Park. For those of us who were mourning the cafe’s closing (and missing everything from ginger martinis to bouillabaisse and calamari Dijonnaise) the idea that another quality restaurant would pop up on the Peninsula’s north end was extremely welcome news.
I spoke with Paul, a noted chef from Portland (see more on that in a moment), this past February. He had just finished the changeover needed for remaking the old Sweet Williams gift shop, across the street from Adelaide’s, into an intimate café, seating between 13-15 people. Paul’s “soft opening” was the weekend of Feb. 9 and 10 and he was planning a special Valentine’s Day menu which was already sold out; so he was so busy we couldn’t even find the time to talk.
Since then, Paul has been delighting both local residents and visitors; and his establishment has steadied out enough that we had time for a conversation over coffee a couple weeks ago.
One of the standouts about Paul’s story is the international mix that he represents. Paul himself is Dutch, he was born in Rotterdam; he took a cooking class in the Netherlands, having no idea that being in a kitchen would catch his interest; and his specialty became Italian food. Then there’s the name of his restaurant — MyCovio’s (pronounced my-COE-vee-us) which to my ear sounds Greek, but is based on the names of his two grandchildren. Well, whatever the international combination, Paul’s food is world class.
From Rotterdam to Ocean Park
Paul came to his chef-dom in a rather backdoor sort of way. “I went to a college in Germany, 60 kilometers southeast of Munich. The school had a great reputation for hotel management, but something else happened to me along the way. There was no fooling around at this school. We had to make beds and clean rooms for three weeks with German women checking our work! It was pretty much a military drill: we learned about upstairs management, reception, and we were shown how to cook — just shown — you would see it but not do it.”
“But for the exam to show that you’d actually paid attention, everyone was assigned a different dish. I was given a German delicacy, Kalbshaxen [veal shank] to cook. You braise the veal, you keep pouring fat over it and if you do it well it gets really crisp and tasty. It’s served with a specialty of bread with liver and egg yolks that you make into little balls and poach; and some vegetable, I forget which one I cooked.”
“Anyway, my dish went out to the table with local chefs, and after the meal one of them came down to the kitchen and asked who had cooked the Kalbshaxen. It was like the Red Sea parted — all my friends stood aside pointing at me, so I knew I was in big trouble. Then the guy said ‘Do you cook often?’ and I said ‘No, not really,” and he said, ‘Maybe you should rethink that because this is the best Kalbshaxen I’ve ever had.’”
“And I loved it — I really threw my heart into that dish without really knowing what I was doing. So when I got back home to the Netherlands, my folks said, ‘Well, maybe you should take some real cooking courses,’ So I signed up for some basic, really basic, cooking classes and that’s how it all started.”
Eventually Paul worked with top chefs and gravitated to Italian cuisine. He immigrated to the United States in March of ’98 and after considering a range of locations (San Francisco was too expensive) decided to open a restaurant in Portland, before eventually moving over the river to another spot in Vancouver, Washington. But Paul and his wife Kathy Janke had been keeping an eye on the Peninsula for quite awhile. When the Sweet Williams building came up for sale, it seemed like the opportunity they had been looking for.
Like all good chefs, Paul uses what’s in season, and this time of year mushrooms are the stars of the menu. (No surprise, Paul is also known for his braising.) Boletus, deliciosus, matsutake, chanterelles, lobster mushrooms were all heaped up in a big bowl when I came in for our conversation.
I returned that weekend for brunch and savored an amazing saffron risotto with mushrooms and cream. But the most exquisite part of brunch for me was Paul’s eggs benedict. I can’t properly describe the delicacy and profound thrill I felt on first tasting his Hollandaise. I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve had Hollandaise in several countries — and I can honestly say, Paul’s home-made Hollandaise nearly sent me over the moon: rich, creamy, with just the right amount of lemon. OMG! If you’re a fan of this classic French sauce, do yourself a favor and stop by MyCovio’s for the benedict (served with either smoked ham, crab, or garlic spinach).
Paul serves a fantastic brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Along with his from-scratch Hollandaise, you’ll find yeast-made waffles and buttermilk griddle cakes, house-made pulled pork, and spaetzli.
The other big eating day to keep in mind is the MyCovio’s Thanksgiving. Paul says he still has a few open reservations for that grand celebratory meal. Stop by the restaurant to pick up a copy of the menu or give a call at 360-642-3475 to make a reservation.
You won’t be sorry.
As Paul says, “I try to be as original as possible. It comes down to this — I do every day what I love to do.”