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Olives....olive garden?

  • h

We decided to eat at Todd English's, OLIVES, last night since i have never been there and it seems to be such a Boston Dining Staple.

We started by having a drink at the bar, where the bartender finally noticed us and promptly gave us our drinks. The space seem to be busy, the staff moving like a colony of ants, and for the most part the guest seem pleased. We were finally seated and waited to be attended by our server. The server was pleasant and seemed to know what was on the menu and how to describe each dish we asked about. We had some wine and snacked on the bread and olive trio. The bread was good, but a little too much olives. The green olive spread was way too salty, but the rest wasn't that bad.

We were suprised by the size of our first course! The carpaccio was so big, that it became unappitizing. We felt that more isn't always better, hense the side of beef on the plate garnished with a garden of large leaf lettuce and heavy handed balsamic dressing. The potatoes on the plate were delightful, i must say. Sadly, the rabbit cacciatore special failed to win our approval. Though the polenta was edible, it did not compensate for the lifeless "cacciatore"! Maybe if the tendon and bone i bit in to had not been present, i would have enjoyed it....probably not!! It was by far the worst thing i had during our dinner.

Overwhelmed by theTexas size apps, we were concerned with our maincourse. The duck al'orange was anything but what the name suggested. I'm all for the practice of fusion or the "new twist", but many times "fusion" seems more like "confusion". Though it did have an orange segment and some sort of orange sauce, the dish took on more of an asian feel than the more familar French dish. I'm ok with that, just don't serve it with some sort of carrot-rootveg-mashed potato!! The duck breast though tasty with its "hoisin jus" and toasted sesame seeds, was overcooked and dry. The cabbage and veggie garnish was underseasoned and BLAHHHH! DC had the pork dish, which suggested it came with an apple butter, yet it was served with diced apples. Also the waiter didn't suggest a temp the chef likes to serve the gigantic pork chop, so I as a cook myself assumed it would come mr or med, nope, med well to well......strange. It was tasty, but again the portion size was ridiculous.

This is too long, so I'll cut to the chase. Way to expensive for the quality of food, not quantity, shady service. Boston has some serious dining issues. Big attitudes by the chefs/owners, crappy food from what seems to be the big gun restaurants. We've given up on the Boston Dining Scene.

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  1. You're about 10 years too late re your take on Olives, which means it's way too early for you to pronounce Boston's dining scene worthless. Olives was great once, but it's long since passed its heyday. If you do a search, you'll see that most recent reports are as mixed as yours; it's hardly the "staple" you claim.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tatamagouche

      Can't imagine who's recent recommendations the OP was operating on to select Olives as a dining destination.

      1. re: Taralli

        I was thinking the same thing. Also wondering who considers this a "Boston Dining Staple" -- not many of us here, that's for sure. Interesting to write off all of Boston's dining based on a visit to this place, though...

        1. re: Taralli

          The negativity isn't unanimous. There are at least a couple of Boston hounds who are still fans: I think hoplover praised it recently, and there's another, who sounds like an industry type, who admires Joe Brenner, the longtime, then gone, now back again executive chef.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            I think Olives is very good. I am still salivating over the ribs and corn puree I had there this summer. We are going with a guest from out of town tomorrow night - and I am looking forward to it. The carpaccio OP mentions is one of my favorites - although I admit I like the way they prepare it in the DC Olives much better where the gorgonzola rosti cake in the C-Town Olives prep is supplanted with a polenta cake and gives the dish more richness - it is a nice counterpoint to the arugula (not overly dressed in my experience - AND BTW - it is a scallion aioli - not a balsamic dressing) and also a nice accompaniment to the roasted balsamic cipploines. The beef is perfection. I might consider that dish as my very last meal. I cannot say I have had a bad meal there recently - we probably go there 4-5 times per year and another 2-3 sitting at the bar. I will pay close attention tomorrow night and report back - but still, I count myself as a fan.

      2. A lot of folks here, myself for one, would have steered you away from that once-great restaurant that's now kind of a tourist trap to many worthier places with better prices. Would you care to comment on some of the other places you've been to that also disappointed you? I hope you're not judging the entire Boston dining scene on Olives alone.

        1. Olives... Boston is a great city to love olives -- salty and cinamon small black ones from Courthouse seafood, excellent dry cured ones and decent selection of briny ones from Wine and Cheese, Formaggio for far too many great olives, Sessa's for inexpensive dried cured, Trapelo and Belmont St for good shopping, bacalhau a bras at Portugalia, Brazilian Salpicao, Oleana for warm olives, even fried olives at Sagra (never tried).

          Oh, you were talking about Todd English. Oh well, as hard as it is to miss his empire in Boston, most hounds try. Don't think he has even been in the kitchen at most locations. I am hoping that Cisco Brewery gives Logan travelers some other welcome than Kingfish Hall. Even the most (over) hyped hound destinations are likely to give you a much better meal.

          1 Reply
          1. re: itaunas

            The fried olives at Sagra are addictive.

            I like the olives in the bins at Arax Market in Watertown.

            Oh. Todd English's Olives. Got it.

          2. In one of its later incarnations, Olives did some very interesting theme dinners around a single vegetable, and it was worth a detour.

            I'm not a fan of the chain. Everyone would benefit if Olives got back to its roots - there is talent out there to help make it happen.

            1. I like to capitalize my Nouns too. I think it's best for you to give up on the Boston Dining Scene too if the only place you eat out at is Olives.

              1. Hello everyone,

                Thanks for the replies. We didn't think it was a dinning destination any longer either, but we gave it a shot. Im sure that there might be other great eateries, but so far we have been dissapointed with our selections! Some of the other restaurants that we disliked were: Salts, Torro, Dali, Aquatine, and the Franklin cafe. They were just too hyped up for the experience we had. We did have a good meal a Chez Henri, Union bar and grill, and of all places Anchovies! I think the fact of us saying that "we've given up on Boston's dinning scene" may be premature! We are still hoping to find great places to dine!! We were thinking Clio, Cragie St. Bistro, Hamersleys, and No.9 Park!

                If anyone has been to any of these places, please give us some info! Hopefully someone can lead us in a good direction for great a meal!

                Thanks in adavance.

                6 Replies
                1. re: hptr

                  I'd be curious to know what you didn't like about Toro, Franklin Cafe, etc as they are two spots that I have consistently liked. I also really like Clio, Hamersley's and No. 9 but wonder if we just have different tastes since you were not happy with places that I keep in regular rotation.

                  1. re: hptr

                    At Hamersley's I'd recommend the roasted chicken - I cannot resist ordering it whenever I'm there. It's very big, so I'd recommend sharing it (with a side of their delicious mashed potato cake).

                    For No. 9 I love their bolognese and the prune-stuffed gnocchi (both on the cafe menu).

                    1. re: hptr

                      I see in your other post before this, you mentioned a New York chef - if you are looking for a NY-style/quality scene, I think you are going to generally be disappointed by the high end in Boston. (This has been often discussed on the board and I think consensus is that there are many superb places in NY that have few equals in Boston in terms of the sweet spot of high end quality, price and hype.)

                      Rather than indulging in Clio, No. 9 or Craigie, which are all about the bank, I'd be curious to hear how you like some places that are a smidge less expensive, but are really focused on the chow...

                      Such as....

                      Blue Room, Cambridge
                      Oleana, Cambridge
                      Gargoyles, Somerville

                      1. re: hptr

                        Out of your disliked restaurants, I really like Toro (that corn is amazing, the space is fun, the drinks are liquid and the rest of the food isn't too bad either) and have a soft spot for Dali - it's incredibly useful for group parties and a casual meal with friends. I also like Chez Henri and Union. That should give you some idea of my taste preferences in regards to your own. Of the other places you're looking to dine, I recommend Craige Street, though the chef can be overly fussy with his ingredients and technique. The house terrines are very good as are his game preparations. His seafood is beautifully flavored, though it could be cooked a smidgen less for me, but that's a small issue as I like my fish & seafood practically underdone. I love the whole subterranean vibe, market-driven menu, competent service and gracious staff.

                        Based on your preferences, other places you might like include Ten Tables, Gargoyles on the Square (nice call Bob), Grotto, Neptune, Rendez-Vous, and Central Kitchen.

                        Good luck out there!

                        1. re: gini

                          Gini, your other suggestions are on the money. I'd particularly be interested to hear the OP's opinion of Grotto, which to me is uncomplicated really good chow, not overhyped, and a pretty great value (I really ought to revisit soon - it's been too long), but still has its haters. I also thought Toro was pretty great.

                        2. re: hptr

                          Funny about Toro, I had one lackluster meal there that, while not bad, wasn't that great either. I've eaten there many times and that was the one WTF? moment. It might just not be to your taste.

                          I'm always happy at No. 9 and Troquet, not as much with Hammersley's.

                          For some reason Craigie Street's wine prices turn me off, I don't know if they're really high or something in the room gives me price vertigo.

                        3. You mention you are a cook- what type of place do you cook at? Is it here in Boston? It would be easier to suggest places for you to dine at if we knew what kind of food you cook on a regular basis.

                          1. Where do you live that you can give up on the Boston Dining Scene? For the majority of people on this board that would mean giving up eating out.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: jonship

                              I don't get all the Boston bashing. Boston is not NY. It never was and will never be anything like NY. That being said, there are plenty of great places in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. For example, Rendezvous, Evoo, Craigie Street Bistro, Eastern Standard, Oleana, Gargoyles, Neptune Oysters, B & G, Lineage, I enjoyed Myers & Chang on one visit, and so on and so on. Please, give Boston a chance!

                              1. re: drewames03

                                drew... agreed. Boston is not NY, and not really a great dining town. It's better than it once was, but for those who love to eat, leaves a lot to be desired. This topic is one that often comes up on this board. One reason CH is so important in this city is that we need all the help we can get to find the few places that can satisfy a true hound. This thread started out with a discussion of Olives. It's a good example. As was stated, Olives was a great spot years ago. The reason that Todd left Boston (so to speak) for greener pastures is that he gets much more support at the spots he opened in other cities. I've spoken with major chefs around the country and the economics are just not good in Boston. The high cost of real estate, the tons of college kids (not a good fine dining demographic), are 2 important reasons it doesn't work. Even the best places in Boston are dead at 11pm... esp during the week... and its worse in the burbs.

                                Boston gets compared a lot to NY since its in such close proximity and since there are a lot of NY'ers here. It's really not a fair comparison as NYC is so much bigger and has so much more big business, foreign $$, and wall street. The finance community alone can keep NYC restaurants in humming.

                                Back to Olives. While it's not what it once was, it still holds up well (now that Joe Brenner is back... as Slim pointed out).

                                Places like Troquet and Craigie Street Bistro, to some extent Rialto are worthy spots in this town. They seem to get it. Most everything else is over-hyped, gimicky, overpriced for what they do, or just doesn't deliver for some reason... service, food, wine.... I've had nice things to say about a few other places in the past, and of course I do go to many other places, but I just know what it is... I put it in perspective... I don't expect it to be great. As was stated, a CH still needs to eat out. Of course, just my opinion, but Im sure I'll be hearing from the many who think the Boston dining scene is one of the best around. It's a never-ending debate.

                                1. re: WineTravel

                                  "Most everything else is over-hyped, gimicky, overpriced . . . "

                                  I mostly agree with you about high-end restaurants, but I think it's limiting to think about the "dining scene," and what Chowhound has to offer, in this way. For instance, two of my favorites, Tu y Yo and Tamarind Bay, wouldn't fit into this discussion but I am always happy to eat there. And I bet we have more homemade ice cream places than NYC.

                                  1. re: Pia

                                    Certainly agree that Boston (region) is one of the best cities in the world for ice cream.

                                    This fact actually somewhat supports my point about Boston demographics. One of the main reasons that ice cream places flourish in this area is that there are so many colleges and universities to support them.

                                    1. re: WineTravel

                                      I don't think you've addressed Pia's key point: that you are focusing on "fine dining", while there is great food to be found here, if you're willing to not be so narrow in defining what good food is about.

                                      1. re: Alcachofa

                                        True, I did mention 3 places that I like that are on the higher end and I am guilty of focusing more of my attention to places that are more mid-high end... as I find more them more interesting, healthier and tend to be places with real chefs and decent wine lists. Of course I also frequent lower priced places, Chinese, Pizza, Italian, etc. That said, my comments weren't intending to focus on just fine dining. I'm looking at the Boston restaurant scene in general... across the board. Agree that the mid to lower range of restaurants stack up better to other cities than those at the higher end. That doesn't make Boston a food city.

                                        Here's one example which illustrates the Boston scene... I had a nice meal at the new La Viole on Newbury St. (my only complaint is that the place is too cramped and noisy... would rather see them take out a few tables and raise the prices a little which would enhance the dining experience greatly). People have been gushing about La Voile since its recent opening. The reason? They seem to genuinely care a lot about what they are doing, and they execute properly in the kitchen with a menu of simple but excellent food. Because it's in Boston (and especially Newbury St) this place is seen as a "revolution". In NY it would get some nice comments but would barely raise an eyebrow.

                                        1. re: WineTravel

                                          I wonder if La Voile has been getting such great feedback because it is in the Back Bay, which you mentioned. I obviously don't know this, but I wonder if it would be getting the same kind of attention if it was in the South End or Cambridge?

                                          Interesting that you find Boston's demographics as a major reason for its mediocre dining scene. I thought that the universities would enhance Boston's scene. The universities attract not only professors, but researchers, scientists, engineers, artists, etc. Generally, these people are well traveled and cosmopolitan. And with large technology and financial sectors, I assumed that these kinds professions would support a sophisticated dining scene.

                                          1. re: WineTravel

                                            From what I've read, most Boston Hounds aren't marveling at La Voile for what it's doing relative to the rest of Boston -- there are plenty of other similarly priced, similarly authentic French places (though arguably not so many that are focused on the cuisine of Provence and the French Riviera). The real excitement is that it offers something decent on Newbury Street, a destination that draws crowds but most Hounds correctly disdain as the home of a lot of terrible places that rely on unwitting tourists and pleasant patios to stay in business.

                                            In any event, the whole Boston vs. NYC discussion debate is tedious and meaningless, and doesn't really help anyone find better chow. Comparing New York to Boston is like comparing Boston to North Andover: there's a 13:1 size advantage in both cases.

                                            Is Boston a good Chow city for its size? I think so, especially, as several Hounds have made pains to point out, if you consider the entire spectrum of restaurants, not just mid- to high-end places.

                                    2. re: WineTravel

                                      "Even the best places in Boston are dead at 11pm... esp during the week... and its worse in the burbs."

                                      Isn't this chicken and the egg? Boston (city governemnt) shuns the late night scene, Bars close early compared to all other metro areas, the T stops running at 12:30. There are hardly any 24 eateries etc

                                      Maybe if the City encouraged a more robust nightlife by say, extending last call to 3am and running the T all night to accomodate these people (and discourage drunk driving) people would be more willing to eat later at these places.

                                      As it is now, if you eat dinner at 11pm by the time you are finished the bars are closing...

                                2. The Olives of 12 years ago was really something. Too bad.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: DTHEASH1

                                    I have stashed away somewhere a dinner menu from Olives c. 1990 or 91--handwritten, Xeroxed--from back when it was still in the tiny old space. I'll never forget what a revelation that meal was--the parmesan pudding with pea tendrils, some kind of duck-three-ways dish with confit and sausage and duck leg on top a crispy risotto cake. Given, I was barely out of college so I wasn't too well versed in fine dining, but I don't think any of us had ever eaten food quite like this before. It was gorgeous--peasanty and decadent at the same time. There never seemed to be an ingredient that wasn't supposed to be there or wasn't somehow intrinsic to each crazy dish. I agree with the lackluster assessments here (though writing off the whole "Boston dining scene" because of Olives seems awfully short-sighted). But I still think fondly on Olives and Todd English--that place was really something.

                                    1. re: greengage

                                      See the current entrees below from the website - doesn't seem as exciting as your dishes - they sound even...lackluster? Wonder how the c. 1990 prices compare? :)

                                      Brick Oven Roasted Chicken - Roasted garlic glaze, country mashed potato cake & green beans...$19.95

                                      Crispy duck l'Orange - Slow roasted duck leg, pan seared breast, sweet & sour cabbage, ginger-orange glaze....$28.95

                                      Wood Grilled Pork Chop & Brown Sugar Peach - Slow smoked bacon, basmati stir fry & native peas...$28.95

                                      Slow Smoked Braised Beef Short Rib - Maytag blue cheese, polenta, heirloom tomato, shaved celery salad...$30.00

                                      Grilled Lamb Sandwich - Sliced leg of lamb, grilled za'atar bread, Mediterranean salads, rouille...$28.75

                                      Wood Grilled Bass - Horseradish whipped potato, shaved fennel, lobster salad, green beans & bacon...$31.95

                                      Wood Grilled Steak Frites - Garlic & rosemary rub, OLiVES classic cut French fries, onion jam, watercress salad...$37.50

                                      Wood Grilled George's Bank Swordfish - Lump crab, sesame spinach, chickpeas, carrot harissa...$32.00

                                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                        No, you're right--these dishes don't sound nearly as zippy. Though God knows--in 1990 heirloom tomatoes,Maytag blue cheese or onion jam probably seemed a lot more exotic than they do now (a cheese with a name? is it cheese or a dishwasher?)

                                        If I can find that menu, I'll try to post some of it--it's like a perfect little time-capsule.

                                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                          Call me a hick, but those dishes, while not revolutionary, sound pretty tasty to me. Maybe they're actually not in the execution, maybe they're overpriced, I don't know--I haven't been to Olives in any decade. But this thread is starting to irk me.

                                          1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                                            Interesting...I think that was exactly my point. For Greengage, in 1990, the dishes at Olives were revelations = innovations. Nothing on the current menu seems to be particularly innovative (you know, since now EVERYONE has parmesan pudding on their menus. ;) Anyway, it's long been discussed here that Todd English's creativity is not what it once was.

                                            I want to know - what is the new black? Truffles? Foie gras? Offal? Done, over, yawn.
                                            I am going to lobby for the husk cherry and nutria chops.

                                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                              I think maybe I'll serve nutria drumsticks at my next buffet...

                                              So--I found this menu and it is kind of amazing. No entrees over $16.95; apps and desserts are $5-6. And it all sounds like food I'd still be tickled to eat. Here's a little sampling.

                                              Mozzarella and oilive ricotta in carrozza with warm chopped tomato, anchovy, basil in garlic olive oil

                                              Brick over baked lobster and canneloni with fontina, potato and spinach

                                              Carrot pappardelle with roasted rabit ragu, rabbit meatballs, roasted carrots and fried sage

                                              Toulousian shredded potato cake stuffed with leeks served with crispy duck and grilled duck chorizo w/ roasted fig glaze

                                              Grilled pork and brick-oven Clam roast with spicy capicola, creamy fresh corn polenta, roasted tomato, olives and rosemary

                                              I remember being struck by the details included in the menu--I feel as if that was still pretty new--those long lists of ingredients or elements. And yes--of course a lot of it is stuff that was more striking then (a brick oven? wow!) I remember the Fallen Chocolate Cake being kind of a big deal and now you can probably order one at Mickey D.'s. Still, good stuff.