the last time i was in the loveless building was to eat lobster corndogs. as it turned out, seafood on the stick wasn’t enough to keep fork afloat. i never did make it to coco la ti da, the all-dessert restaurant open for a minute in the space.
olivar opened quietly, without the media frenzy of poppy, and operates in a similarly understated manner. it’s a neighborhood restaurant, a place neighbors happen across without reading about it in seattle metropolitan. chef philippe thomelin grew up in france and spent a decade in spain; both cassoulet and albondigas are offered at olivar. the heft of the menu lies in the small plates section; only four or so are classified as large.
it is casual, wintry food. meat is braised, eggs are poached, and a salsify casserole is a component of one large plate. the albondigas ($9) are golf-ball sized, crisp on the outside, rosy pink within. well-seasoned and juicy, i could have easily made six of them my whole meal without complaint.
sangria was the natural accompaniment to our first plates. tart and flavorful, it’s the kind of sangria you drink in spain. a soft sheep cheese appetizer was described on the chalkboard in the middle of the room. herbs, a pickled plum and a pool of chorizo oil dressed it up the creamy cheese pyramid.
scallops ($15) are cooked classically, seared as usual and bedded with fresh peas and tiny bits of pork. gnocchi with wild mushrooms ($12) were soft to the extreme, and it’s not just because i’ve become so partial to the pan fried, crisp version lately. mushrooms tasted properly like mushrooms, but an unexplainable brown purée lined the bottom of the dish…more mushrooms? it was neither alarming nor appealing.
braised pork ($9) was rich and salty, cooked with care among tomatoes and rosemary. flatbread was nutty and absorbent and made the dish nearly a complete meal – the small plates are hardly bite-sized. though it’s possible we were distracted by drink and talk, my table of three (none of us modest eaters or spenders) only made it through four of them.
most of olivar’s seating is in the front room, which is about the size of the living room of my one bedroom apartment. the low ceilings and still intact loveless building murals bring everything closer. with candles, dim lights, hot toddies and a space heater, it would have been fantastically cozy; instead, each time the door opened the dining room became the rhone valley with le mistral gusting through. no one in the front room could have been exempt, though we were in the line of fire.
i hate dwelling on a little thing so easily fixed with a curtain or a temporary, outdoor, new york style entryway.
see it on the right?
but being uncomfortable colored my memory of the meal more than i would have liked. it was dumb to go out with bare arms in february, but women out to dinner tend to do that.
the wine list is short, but flexible. it’s mostly spanish and a knowledgeable guide is helpful; our server steered us towards an affordable garnacha we were more than happy to drink.
when the bill came, we were floored and discussed framing it – had we ever spent so little on a full dinner out? this and the sunday night crowd were reassuring, and i’d like to go back soon. before or after a movie at the harvard exit, most likely, or at least when the air whipping through the room is august air. sitting on a small table out front with a sangria and a plate of albondigas sounds beautiful.