Even though I have read mixed reviews of Olives, my wife and I will be going there for dinner soon, since we were given a gift certificate. So, rather than order those dishes which you chowhounds do not like, how about some suggestions of the best dishes on the menu? This way, I won't waste calories. Thanks, as always, for your help.
I went to Olives last night with two friends -- here's my rather wordy review.
I started with a Wellfleet oyster on the halfshell which came nestled in ice and seaweed strands with a trio of sauces: a fantastic horseradish-filled cocktail sauce, a citrusy vinaigrette, and a dish of what tasted like bloody mary sorbet. The oyster and the sauces were fantastic and fresh, a real highlight.
The house specialty appetizer, the Yellowtail Tuna Tartar, came in a "spun cucumber salad" (aka a strip of cucumber used as a nest). The decently fresh tuna (topped with wasabi-flavored roe) sat atop a crispy fried disc of shrimp which tasted like the oil it'd been fried in; the sauces artistically drizzled around it tasted like nothing at all except for a hint of green.
For my meal, I ordered another Todd English specialty, their popular Tortelli of Butternut Squash with Browned Butter. The chewy handmade pasta came in four narrow arrow-pointed strips with two ravioli bulges along each strip, an acorn-brown broth underneath and parmesan cheese flaked all around like coconut. It was a nice mouth-filling pasta, but there wasn't much to rave about with this dish: the squash puree tasted like pumpkin pie filling and the "browned butter" sauce was a thin, very mildly nutty broth that had very little taste of anything at all, much less browned butter.
My dining companions had the pork chop (deemed "good but nothing great") and the special Bay Scallops, which were generically lemon-pepper seasoned and overcooked, as well as being skimpy -- four scallops for $25?
For desert, I got another house specialty, the vanilla soufflé. Topped with creme anglaise and stuffed with vanilla ice cream, the cute little souffle was ethereally light, the essence of vanilla -- a real treat. The surprise came when my guests, who each ordered the "cookies and ice cream" desert, were served huge plates, each with five or six thick, dense, bizarrely huge cookies and brownies, far more than they could eat.
I can't really complain about anything I ate at Olives, but I certainly can't rave about it, either; for their price level, I expect a lot more than "reasonably tasty" from my food. With so many other great places to eat in Boston with reasonable prices and fantastic innovative cuisine -- or just great food -- there's not much point to dropping $90 a person at Olives.
If you don't want to go to olives you can use the TE gift card ( as long as its a gift card) at any of the TE restaurants i.e. Kingfish Hall, Figs, and now Bonfire. The food at olives is getting back on track with joe brenner and sous chef micheal. The TE restaurants are all still very good even though todd is a complete douche bag.
I'm not sure whether or not they have updated hte menu but I would recommend the braised beef short rib, the duck l'orange, and the chicken is amazingly tender if it is what you desire. The beef carpaccio and tuna tar tar are also fabulous. Desert, you can't go wrong. All sorbets are made in house (as is everything else) if your in the mood for something cold. I can attest to Chef Brenner's work as I have worked with him and anything leaving his kitchen will be fabulous.
Olives: it used to be better. But you knew that. And someone else is paying, yippee!
On the current menu (holy crap, have prices crept up!), there are some dishes that have been around in various forms for a while and are likely still good: the tuna tartare, the grilled squid and octopus. From the pasta menu, butternut squash tortelli with sage and brown butter, another quasi-classic. From the entrees, the leg of lamb sandwich (now $29, zoiks!). The razor clams casino special.
I haven't been dragged back here in a while, since early this year, which might be prior to current chef Joe Brenner's return: they have a bit of an ongoing parade of exec chefs there, since The Todd never actually, you know, *cooks* there anymore. I would love to hear your follow-up report.
re: MC Slim JB
I have always loved Olives. I was reading an interview the other day with Lydia Shire and she admitted that Todd English makes incredible Food. I know that people feel that Todd got too big for himself but I think people are hard on successful people. There was a year or two that Olives was not on track but I am sure that you will have a lovely dinner. Hopefully Albert will be your waiter and he is fantastic. The roasted Duck has always been my favorite and I love the Skate wing too. I always overeat when I eat there. I would never ever regift a gift certificate to Olives. The last time I was there it was fabulous. The Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage is delicious. The chestnut ravioli is better than sex and i love that too!
The one and only time I went to Olives, it wasn't too bad at all. In fact The Man himself was there at the bar looking very stern. Anyway, IIRC, I had Wellfleet oysters to start...nice and fresh, but came with a mignonette sauce, which I don't like on general principle so ignored it. Entree was the duck l'Orange....nothing to rave about but was as good as I've had elsewhere. Drinks were served in a timely fashion; we may have had a bread basket with olive oil, but since I don't have bread, nor dessert, these two items are no longer in my memory bank. I remember the server being helpful and pleasant. I know the tip we left was high end, because we all had a fine time with no complaints. Oh, and the place was jam packed. We had a reservation, and were seated on time.
I hope this helps you somewhat. But you know, everything is subject to the attitude one takes with one when trying a new place. Either you're predisposed to hate the place, or you go with an open mind. I do hope you have a good time there!