Olive, But Not Drab
Green Olive Adds Fresh Energy to Mediterranean Fare
This location is closed
A brand-new and thoroughly pleasing Mediterranean restaurant down in Federal Hill, Green Olive is a a great-looking, cosmopolitan, first-date kind of place, and we spent what was for us a longer than typical time admiring its ambiance. It almost crosses over into hyperdesign—jutting half walls painted olive and pimento, stainless-steel tables, and sleek, modern tableware—but it came across to us as warm and neighborly. Even so, I wouldn’t be shocked if some Federal Hill die-hards resisted it.
They shouldn’t. Only the tall prices—with a dozen entrées hovering in the high teens and the low 20s—would keep folks from all over from giving this place a try. Executive chef Adam Deaibes’ menu struck us as both freshly considered and smartly constructed.
Appetizers here are confined to a manageable minimum—four tapas (e.g., calamari, Spanish peppers stuffed with crabmeat), four mezze (falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj, and grape leaves), and four salads. Absolutely try the gambas al pil pil ($9), a heaping serving of shell-on, blatantly fresh, spicy shrimp piled on a shallow ruby red lake of white wine, garlic, and chili oil. Suddenly, it’s safe to order shrimp again. We also admired the four-to-an-order stuffed grape leaves ($8), filled with spiced lamb and pine nuts, handsomely presented and nicely hand-rolled in an oblique, telescoping shape, but they didn’t make the impact that everything else we tried did.
If there’s a genius dish here, though, it’s the salad of grilled fresh romaine and endive. The lovely contrasting hues—dark green and ivory white—of perfectly chosen lettuce hearts, topped with long, wavy carrot strips and sliced tomatoes, made mouths water. The pleasures of grilled romaine you may know from trendy grilled Caesar salads, but endive, particularly when it’s grilled at the Green Olive, is worth savoring—tender, a little nutty, and just slightly bitter. An innocuous, and therefore ideally effective, creamy dressing topped off this show-stopper.
Good news continued through the entrées, which like the appetizers arrived with confident flair, and for a change, even the chef’s drizzles and sprinklings felt necessary to the dishes. Try the viernas con jamon ($23), a bed of crispy Serrano ham, topped with five specimen sea scallops that form a kind of sinuous stem culminating in an otherworldly blossom of pungent “hens of the wood” mushrooms. It’s a notable success, because all of its elements—scallops, ham, mushrooms—coax out each others’ sharpest and darkest flavors. For a dramatic eggplant lasagna entrée ($16), Deaibes places a mozzarella-topped, olive-layered cylinder of gently fried eggplant in the center of a square plate brimming with a marinara sauce so good we all ended up eating it with our spoons.
The grilled yellowfin tuna ($22) was flattered by a relish of green olives and sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, pine nuts, and basil, but it didn’t acquire any appreciable flavor from any of them. On the other hand, the tuna retained its own native tastes—a close call but still underwhelming compared to the kitchen’s triumphs. The grilled strip steak ($22) was certainly big enough, and thick enough, but it was on the tough side. It was rescued, though, by adroitly roasted onions and fingerling potatoes, and a deep, robust Spanish Cabrales sauce that blended brandy, mushrooms, and full-bodied blue cheese.
A new pastry chef is on the way, we were told (we had some fun with the only dessert available, an edible chocolate coffee cup filled with mousse, angel food cake, and hazelnuts), but something should be done about the lame coffee, served with milk.
The olive in the restaurant’s name refers not only to the fruit’s omnipresence in its cuisine but also to the restaurant’s post-dinner morph into a swanky, late-night martini bar. Everyone pays for the swank, though—the check, which included modest booze, didn’t stagger us but was definitely in the “special evening” range. Still, impressed by this early visit, it’s on my list of places to go, especially when someone else is paying.