Oli’s offers creative Italian classics
It wasn’t until I read up on Oli’s that I realized it was an Oliveri family enterprise.
And then I thought, “Yeah, that figures.”
The Oliveris have been in the hospitality business long enough to have developed a level of professionalism that virtually guarantees quality, and it shows in every way at Oli’s. The eatery is set in a new building, which is next to Gerardo’s Italian Bakery. The two businesses have some level of symbiosis; they’re connected by an open doorway. More on that later.
Oli’s dining room is bright and airy in a welcoming manner; the back wall is decorated with a mural depicting an olive sprig. Why some of the olives are stuffed with pimentos is an interesting question to ponder. But more important matters were at hand, such as cracking into the menu and making decisions. Kara, our server, was quite knowledgeable about Oli’s cuisine and, delightfully, very high energy.
Italian cuisine ranges from simple and rustic to refined and composed. Many of Oli’s entrees tend toward the more complicated end of the spectrum; here’s a chef unafraid of sauces and flavor layering.
I started with another Oliveri family enterprise, a glass of Wormtown’s Wintah Brown Ale. My immediate reaction was surprise. Most breweries offer seasonal specials that are variations on basic lagers. Wormtown Wintah is a horse of another color entirely. This was dark as coffee and deep in flavor but not as rich as a porter or stout. Each sip was a smooth pleasure, with flavors hinting of cocoa and roasted nuts.
Though I’ve already made note of Oli’s entrée complexity, we started out simple with an appetizer of Arancini. Made with Arborio rice and served steaming hot, they were tender on the inside with a gooey, four-cheese center. Four of these arancini balls were fried crispy golden brown and served on a platter schmeared with fresh marinara.
Seeing we were finished, Kara attempted to remove our dish. But we wouldn’t let go till we’d sopped up the last dab of marinara with slices of homemade Italian bread.
Chicken is usually my least-preferred entrée protein, especially in off-the-bone formats. I just can’t get that hyper-processed nugget concept out of my mind. But Oli’s seemed a safe haven from all that, so I decided to try the Chicken Fontina. Two chicken cutlets had been lightly crumb-breaded, sautéed and then layered with thin sheets of prosciutto ham and topped with a thick blanket of Fontina cheese. They were served atop a bed of linguini noodles
dressed with a subtle garlic-lemon sauce.
This combination of flavors: delicate Fontina and chicken, tasty prosciutto, lemon and garlic could have clashed. But in Oli’s capable hands, they found harmony. Kara had enthusiastically recommended this entrée. Lesson? Listen to your server!
My friend’s entrée was one of the evening’s specials, Chicken over Lobster Ravioli. It was quite a composition: Several of those chicken cutlets were smothered in a pink lobster cream sauce and nestled over black- and yellow-striped ravioli. Tangy sun-dried tomatoes, spears of asparagus and roasted red pepper strips were blended into the sauté, each contributing its distinctive color, flavor and texture.
The large raviolis were packed with pure lobster meat, making it a dish both huge in size and richness.
These entrees were compositions to be explored, not the kind of affairs to be hurried through. So take time to enjoy Oli’s; it shows inventiveness while keeping true to classic recipes. I’d trust Oli’s with any of the Italian favorites.
Throughout my meal, I kept looking over my shoulder through the doorway into Gerardo’s Bakery… it was bright and its display cases sparkled with promise. After my meal, I just had to take a look.
Whenever I visit a European city or town, I take particular pleasure in visiting the food markets and, especially, bakeries. The ritual of browsing, discovering local delights and being politely served is a wondrous thing that imprints long-term memories. Gerardo’s has all of this. All I can say is, “Go there; it’s a pastry wonderland.”
By Bernard Whitmore