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Sep 16, 2008 08:33 PM

Olivia's - Austin Chowhound Style

Just got home from our first Austin Dinner out as a group at Olivia's.

For all but 1 of us it was our first time there.

I'm sure everyone is busy working on their reviews since we sampled the majority of the menu.

It was a blast getting to try a new place with fellow Austin hounds.

I encourage you to join the group list if you want to be a part of the next group dinner .

Our next 2 requests are Asian/sushi and then tex-mex.

I'm hoping that my fellow dinner companions will post their reviews here.

I will start off with a must try... the lambs tongue fricassee appetizer. I could have eaten that all night.

Very tender on the inside with a flaky coating and a great blend of sweet and tart citrus sauce with plouts. Yummmmmmy!

Listed as $12 on the menu but was served as the amuse bouche for our party of 8.

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  1. Sorry I missed it. I just now landed from a work trip. I'm heating up a can of Progresso Manhattan Clam Chowder - thinking of lamb tongues and what that must be like.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rudeboy

      ewww - avoid this Chowder at all costs. I bought it at the Allandale HEB, but it must be equally horrible elsewhere in Austin.

      wish I could have made it to Olivia's......

    2. This probably won’t be the most thorough review - just what i remember. I saw pens and some kept menus, so I expect someone will do the deed. This is from memory. If I don’t get it out now I won’t. The wine selections were excellent and I won't even try to go there:

      I found the service to be congenial, enthusiastic and attentive. The restaurant itself is a masterpiece that manages to pack a lot of people into a relatively small space without feeling cramped at all. I didn’t notice a bad seat in the house.

      Lambs Tongue Fricasse: Easily the highlight of my meal. I generally don’t order tongue. Hell I even avoid it, but this raised the bar as to what I would expect for the rest of the meal...perhaps unfairly so.

      Raw oysters: Flawless. I only had one, but could have had a dozen. Was that some sort of citrus on top? Not just lemon I don't think…

      PEI Mussels: Spot on. The sauce was worthy of dipping and the mussels were fresh and clean tasting.

      Charcuterie Plate (rabbit rillettes, pork pate', headcheese):
      Rabbit Rillettes were really smooth and you definitely got the richness from this guy sitting in its own fat for a couple days. With the accompanying mustard and honey this stuff was great to spread on the croutons provided.
      Pork and headcheese were ok. A nice change from typical to be sure.

      The two salads we had were not memorable. A proscuitto? and a green salad with goat cheese

      Filet: Skillfully medium rare. Could eat one of these on my own. Especially with the brown sauce and oyster mushrooms.

      Arctic Char Tortillini: The char itself was fair, if not a little dry/bland. I did enjoy the thick tortellini and the lemon cream? sauce they were accompanied by. This one definitely drew a varied reaction at the table.

      Beet Agnolotti: This one got points for uniqueness on my scorecard. I liked it. The pasta was on the tender side of al dente. I think the table was nonplussed by the dish as a whole.

      Mixed Grill: I didn't see this one the menu beforehand and by the time I got to it I couldn't tell what was what. I think it was a couple of large quail stuffed with rice and two small halved links of housemade venison sausage.
      The quail had a a sweet/savory thing going that I dug. Unfortunately some of us got portions of rice that were hard. I don’t know if it is an “al dente” thing or if it was burned. My hunch is the former, but given how much rice is on the dish you kinda want to get it right.
      The sausage packed a late spice punch. You don't need much more than a bite to get the idea of this one. It illicited a mixed reaction. I could eat a grill sized link of this stuff.

      Chicken Liver Risotto With Bacon: This was another first for me. The rendered liver coated your mouth with each bite. The risotto was soft and creamy. Some found it too salty. No way you could eat a whole order of this, but 3.5 bites worked for me.

      A couple of the dishes had Haricots Verts as the Veg. These were cooked to my liking- just a quick blanch.

      I’ll let someone else who appreciates desert more speak to those. On the whole they were good, but didn’t knock my socks off. I guess that is kind of how I felt about Olivia too.

      Some cool and unique dishes to me and for Austin I think. The execution on the majority of our dishes was there.

      Apparently the menu changes constantly based on the availability of ingredients and what is local and/or in season. Given the overall execution of the meal, I’d go back to see what else they can do.

      When you go, be sure and go with at least a few people and a willingness to expand your borders a bit. There is a lot to try and the further I got out on the limb the more I enjoyed the dish.

      This place is not a feed bag, but rather a strong effort at pushing our city’s culinary boundaries. That the place was pretty bustling for a Tuesday gives me hope that we may well be deserving of a second Uchi, a David Chang effort and whatever the coast wants to throw our way.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ieathereforeiam

        I agree with ieatthereforiam. Finishing the meal with a Port brought me in for a smooth landing. The day after, I find myself thinking of this place as a twin to Wink with a more spacious dining room. If they add a bar menu similar to Wink I would drop by as regularly.

        1. re: Paul Silver

          I'm originally from NYC and have been living in France for 17 yrs. I moved here a year ago and everyone has made suggestions on where to eat. and I have gone from one disappointment to the next. Luckily I am married to a chef so food at home is great but we love going out. I'm interested in your suggestions as you seem as underwhelmed as I am (no snobbism intended either). Thanks

          1. re: laur76

            I ate at mulberry this week for the first time and left really happy. the lamb agniolli was perfect. The meatballs were highly enjoyable and everything was fresh and well thought out. The chef worked under the chef that opened Parkside, my hands down favorite spot. Not everything at parkside hits everytime, but there is a lot to explore there.

        2. re: ieathereforeiam

          OK, i need to respectfully disagree with the comments from ieat...

          i am hoping that this doesn't come off of the snobism of a recent NYC transplant, because it really doesn't have anything to do with that. i've turned my Polish husband into a food-snob, god help him, and he emphatically stated that this was one of the most sorry, ill-prepared, uninspired meals he's ever had.

          i wouldn't go quite that far, but i think i'm more tolerant than he is. it certainly dissappoints given the effort given to atmosphere and interior design and price point.

          i would agree that the service was generally congenial and enthusiastic. with a caveat: poorly handled critism. when, towards the end of the meal, i summed up a few critical comments i had heard at my end of the table regarding the risotto, arctic char tortellini, and the mixed grill (introduced as comments to pass along to the kitchen) -- she actually responded defensively and actually used these words in her response "not that you don't know what you're talking about...".

          Lamb's Tongue: the tongue was delicous and a nice consistency. the sauce was fine, but not memorable nor distinctive. the pluots seemed like they would be an interesting balance, but they were not.

          Raw Oysters: pathetic. first, i cannot say much, because the oyster i was given was about the size of my smallest fingernail (and i have small hands). at $3 each, this is pretty inexcusable. all i could taste was the mignonette. i can pass along my husbands comments, which is that no self-respecting shellfish shack would serve these. i believe he said that they were bland and flavorless, and the mignonette was overwhelming. a real dissappointment, as the server enthusiastically recommended them.

          Mussels: OK. they seemed to be cooked appropriately, but the sauce, although tasty, was overwhelming and overpowered what individual flavor the mussels may have had. a tomato-sauce with mussels is too much, whereas it's fine to have a sauce with tomato-chunks in it -- this was tomato sauce with a bit of brine thrown in. the bread served with this was also very salty (salt-crust on top). i tried another bite of the bread later, when it was served alone -- not only too salty on top, but the interior was just bland dough.

          Charcuterie Plate: bland, oversalted, without character. there was one (not sure which, i think the headcheese) was less pleasant than the others ... i think texture-wise rather than flavorwise. the rillettes were oversalted, and the pate was without character.

          Green Salad with Goat Cheese: agreed, not memorable.
          Arugula (?) with Proscuitto and Figs: not an amazing execution, but as it was simply dressed and not overdressed and flavors i like, i thought it was good. it wouldn't've passed notice in a better restaurant, but here it was a plate i would be willing to finish.

          Filet Mignon: agreed. this was easily the best dish of the night, and i think everyone enjoyed it. if my husband and i had had this dish and little to nothing else, we would have thought Olivia's might be worthwhile. whereas neither of us tend to think much of mashed potatoes, certainly the truffles in them combined as a delight with the sauce and the steak. not a thing wrong with this dish.

          Arctic Char & "Shrimp" Tortillini: i actually had to cleanse my pallatte after this one, it was inedible. another commenter at the table said that she wanted to spit hers out. i heard at least two other complaints about this dish, including that the fish tasted spoiled. also there was no evidence of any shrimp in this dish. the pasta was probably nice, but who knows. i wouldn't go near this again.

          Beet Agnolotti: i wasn't wowed by this dish, but i found it to be simple, light, and tasty. i've leave my husband's comments out, as he doesn't care much for pasta when it's not whole-wheat, nor for beets, unless in borscht.

          Mixed Grill: this seemed OK, but too salty. the "al dente" rice didn't phase me, but i did hear a number of people comment on the crunchy rice, which is one of the comments i had passed on to the server (which i think is the comment that elicited the "not that you don't know what you're talking about) response...

          Chicken Liver Risotto w/Bacon: way, way too salty. i had one bite, and couldn't finish my spoonful portion, because of the salt. and i like salt. i wish i had tasted some chicken liver or bacon, because i love those.

          as for the desserts, i found them to the be the strong suit of the night. perhaps not spectacular, but a notch above the majority of the meal. we had one of each:

          Ducks Egg Creme Caramel: basically a solid flan.

          Lemon Ginger Basque Cake: tasty, nicely salty balancing the sweet. nice consistency to the cake, a good crumb.

          Chocolate pie w/grahmn cracker crust: i think. it was tasty and good, in the way that you can trust chocolate to be chocolate, and the crust also had a nice texture. not memorable though.

          so, basically, the kitchen has a lot of growing to do to meet expectations.

          as for pushing culinary boundries, i don't think Olivia is doing that or even TRYING to do that. nothing original nor creatively executed. no unexpected flavors.

          as for the David Chang effort comment -- that seems so left-field to me. he doesn't have any plans to extend beyond NYC that i'm aware... and although i did have a lovely meal at the newest part of his empire, Momofuku Ko, and i did enjoy bringing visitors to the Momofuku Noodle Bar, i also find a lot of it to be overrated.


          1. re: charlie_b

            Above posters

            How much was the total bill for the table? How much would it be for two people to have an appetizer,two entrees,a dessert and 4 cocktails?

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              It was $423 ($54/per person).

              That included:
              3 bottles of wine,
              appetizers: mussels, Charcuterie Plate, 8 oysters ($3 each), (lamb's tongue was on the house)
              2 salads
              5 entrees
              and 3 desserts

            2. re: charlie_b

              the fun part of eating as a group to me are the varying opinions. I was distracted near the end of the meal by something or other and didn't really catch the exchange with the waitress at y'alls end of the table.

              here is where i got the david chang thing from:

              and I'd love to have the opportunity to call him overrated, but frankly i think he'd be a rock star here.

              1. re: ieathereforeiam

                yeah, he'd be a rockstar here, that's for sure.
                don't get me wrong, i like the Chang places, and my meal at Ko was memorable (i enjoyed the frozen, shave fois gras served with lychee that i had them bring out a second round pre-dessert). like anywhere, it can be hit or miss -- but he's got more hits, which keeps him successful and popular.

                yes, i enjoy the varying opinions as well.

          2. Jumping in with my first post on ChowHound after being a longtime lurker. I moved to Austin about three years ago and regularly go to restaurants. We also travel internationally and domestically in search of fine food and wine. And generally succeed!

            I have to give Olivia's a mixed review. Since it was our first visit we weren't able to try a large portion of the menu but here are some comments on the dishes we had:

            Starters - an Italian Cheese plate with crostini and a honey, pine nut sweet bowl. Of the 3 cheeses one was superb, one was good and the other was unmemorable. Hard to go wrong with cheese. We also had the argula salad with serrano ham and gorgonzola dressing. A simple salad but the serrano ham was overly salty.

            Main - Spaghetti and Meatballs - Hubby liked this and described it as good but not memorable. Hangar Steak and Fries - Finally something really good - perfectly cooked good quality steak and good fries. I asked for aioli and liked the fries with it. The homemade ketchup was good and very vinegary.

            We ordered a bottle of wine for a 2X retail markup which is a relief. There are many Austin restaurants going for a 3X markup which is just a rip-off. We are very into wine and unfortunately I know just how much most wines go for at retail.

            The atmosphere was lovely - we ate outside on a cool night with a full moon. Excellent!

            The mixed review comes from the extreme slowness of the kitchen. There was about a 45 minute gap from the time we ordered and the first appy came out. Our wine was brought during this time but I finally asked the waitstaff about the delay. The hostess kept checking to see if our food had been brought yet so there was good attention on her part. The waitstaff was professional and even seemed to know a bit about wine. Prices were high for food that averaged mediocre-good. I like the idea of using local, fresh ingredients.

            Finally, we will give them another shot but if our visit was any indication they will have to work very hard to be a restaurant that could survive outside of Austin in any of the foodie cities. Austin has a boatload of mediocre restaurants with only a few that stand above and beyond. I had high hopes for Olivia's given the early buzz. Only time will tell.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Winetex

              Austin has a boatload of mediocre restaurants with only a few that stand above and beyond. I had high hopes for Olivia's given the early buzz. Only time will tell.

              I am really and sincerely interested in what you consider to be the above and beyond restuarants. Please do tell. j.

              1. re: singlemalt

                Right now the only one that comes to mind is Uchi. Great unique food, good service but can do without the eternal waits. Certainly there are others we have yet to try so I can't comment on every restaurant in town quite yet. :)

                Consistency is another problem for many local restaurants.

                1. re: Winetex

                  I'm looking forward to trying Olivia's myself, but as to above and beyond restaurants in Austin, I don't see how one can broach the topic without bringing up Fonda San Miguel (I agree with Uchi, btw).