PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A wine-focused restaurant along Southeast Hawthorne in Portland has been recognized as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program.

Things are more than okay at OK Omens, the sister restaurant to highly acclaimed Castagna, which is closed for now.

“With Castagna not open, the focus has gone over here, and we’ve really turned into like a full sit down, really interesting, dynamic dinner restaurant where you’re going to get in some ways like Castagna-level techniques and ingredients, but in a much more casual format,” OK Omens Manager and Somm Brent Braun said.

Now, the sibling restaurant is growing and getting a lot of attention of its own — all with a mix of fine dining, while not taking things too seriously.

“We have a pretty interesting program here. It’s a combination of high and low and that’s really intentional,” Braun said. “We wanted to be a place for everyone really.”

Braun is also a wine expert, or somm, whose light-hearted vibe is reflected in his wine selections too.

“There’s a lot of jokes written on the menu, a lot of wine tasting descriptors, a lot of stories. And the idea is to make that accessible to kind of the average person. But then there’s this deep list of like classics and we age a lot of wines,” Braun explained.    

Portland, OR OK Omens restaurant recognized as James Beard Award semifinalist
OK Omens Manager and Somm, Brent Braun, says the Portland, Oregon restaurant’s menu features “a lot of jokes” so it’s accessible to the “average person.” February 2, 2023 (Courtesy OK Omens).

Then there’s the collaboration of the wines working with the food from chef Justin Woodward, who makes menu staples like torito salad that has Corn Nuts on it — and some new additions.

“This one is called, Brassicas. It’s made with seaweed butter. So, we take wakame and just blend it with butter. There’s some lime juice, a ribbon of kohlrabes and crispy kale. There’s some cabbage in there and a garlic and celery root puree,” Woodward said.

He also crafts a chicken liver mousse with warm apple bread.

“It’s like a warm kind of like, almost like an apple muffin,” Woodward described. “So, you kind of eat it like bread and butter.”

Woodward also described his joy for cooking and creating.

“Definitely having fun with it. Try to be creative. Push myself to think new things. I want the food to be obviously delicious, but I also want it to be, you know, exciting and beautiful,” Woodward said.

  • Portland, OR OK Omens restaurant recognized as James Beard Award semifinalist
  • Portland, OR OK Omens restaurant recognized as James Beard Award semifinalist

And with Bar Manager Johnny Reinert, there’s a creative take on traditional cocktails.

“Like the wine, they always have like really fun names, fun descriptors to them to kind of make it accessible,” Braun said.

This includes cocktails like the “Unholy Vows.”

“Just make it fun for everybody, whether you’re looking for those rare bottles or you just want to drink a few glasses of fun wine and have a good time,” Braun said.

As for the restaurant name, Woodward suggested “Omens.” But after they talked about how you’ve got to have a good or bad omen, having some fun, they liked that it’s just “OK Omens.”

The James Beard Award finalists will be announced in March, followed by the winner’s announcement in early June.