Monday, January 25, 2010

Return to Olivia

 photo via

Talk about extremes. On Saturday, I started the day off with breakfast at Star Seeds and ended  with dinner at Olivia. That's the cultural equivalent of going from Branson to Monte Carlo. Although the food wasn't bad at Star Seeds, I'll spare you the details. Let's just say Star Seeds is a greazy spoon diner without the slightest hint of irony.

Olivia, on the other hand, is always worth talking about. This was our second visit to Olivia. Although it was a Saturday night at the peak of the dinner rush, we were able to find plenty of open seating at the bar. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that we could order from the full menu rather than being restricted to bar food. I love a low key, easy breezy dining experience, especially when it happens at one of Austin's best restaurants. Another advantage of sitting at the bar is the face time you have with the bartender who is also your server. The bartender can't ignore you when you're right in front of him. That doesn't mean things can't go wrong, though.

While sitting at the bar we learned that Olivia only serves beer and wine, no liquor. While I don't know exactly why the owners chose to operate this way, I can see some definite advantages. Without a full service bar, the focus stays on the food, which is where it should be at Olivia. The wine serves to enhance the experience, not detract from it.

While sipping on a nice rose wine recommended by the bartender, we perused the menu and ultimately decided on salads along with an entree of grouper and another of lamb liver and onions.

Our salads arrived promptly. We had a caesar salad with fat, white anchovies and another mixed green salad with an excellent mild bleu cheese, thick chunks of bacon and fresh grapes. All the flavors melded perfectly.

After the salads, we entered into a frustratingly long wait for our entrees. The bartender was apologetic and continued to refill our wine glasses at no charge while we waited. And waited. We started to get suspicious when the couple next to us, who had ordered at least 30 minutes after us, got their entrees and finished them before ours had arrived. When our entrees finally did arrive, they were excellent, especially the fresh grouper that was served on a bed of lightly buttered cappellini, pecorino and broccoli. The lambs liver with caramelized onions and brandy sauce was served atop mashed potatoes and sliced apples. There were five large livers on this one rich dish, so there was plenty left over to take home.

The dinner was excellent, but it would not have been complete without dessert. We ordered the homemade chocolate truffle ice cream and a spicy chocolate pot de creme with bruleed marshmallow. I still haven't quite bought into the whole spicy chocolate craze, but this was the best interpretation I've had yet. The spice was intense, but didn't overpower the taste of the chocolate. And, consistent with our first Olivia experience, the chocolate truffle ice cream was rich and velvety smooth. 

When we were about to leave, the chef came out to personally apologize for our food taking so long. Considering we hadn't really complained, it was impressive that he took the initiative to offer an explanation. It's understandable that things don't always go as planned in a busy kitchen. The only time I have a problem in these situations is when I feel ignored or forgotten. That wasn't the case at Olivia. It was obvious that the staff was doing the best they could. Of course, it doesn't hurt when the food is worth the wait.

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