It's not every day that a café offers its diners so much more than just a warm meal. In the case of the OLV Café, a smartly dressed restaurant in the city's SoDo district, it can evOLVe to fit your needs: Want to check your e-mail while sipping a cappuccino? Need a place for a power lunch with the boys? Want to wine and dine your date? Indeed, OLV's website claims that it's 'more than a café ' it's what you believe it to be. Well, after viewing their menu of small plates, I wanted to believe the prices were in Canadian dollars. Charging nearly entrée-level prices for small plates is a ballsy move in the current economic climate, and can only be justified should the cost be commensurate with the quality.
Clearly OLV is making every effort to segregate itself from its more casual neighbors, Rockn' Joe Coffeehouse & Bistro and Jason's Deli, which it does successfully. Comfortably classy and relaxed, the café has a high cozy factor and is the kind of place that makes you wish it were cold outside.
But given that on this particular day it was 90 degrees in the shade, a chilled serving of tuna ceviche ($11) in a martini glass seemed appropriate. While the avocado-tomato salsa offered refreshing bursts, the onions were overwhelming. Smoked duck confit flatbread ($9.50) is a sweet and meaty number that stirs the palate with a confluence of textures and flavors; the slight gaminess of the duck was countered with creamy Boursin cheese, sweet slivers of Granny Smith apples and a balsamic-syrup drizzle. The result was a little too sweet for my taste, but it was a worthy effort nonetheless. Mark Gordon's petite beef tenders ($10) are named after owner Humberto Perez's close friend, a man who, evidently, desires only meat and potatoes when dining out. This dish, sadly, left much to be desired. Not only were the medallions overcooked but, ironically, the meat was served tepid. The pool of tomato hollandaise didn't really enhance the flavors of the beef the way that, say, a peppercorn hollandaise would. As for the roasted potatoes, however, I think Mr. Gordon would approve. Chicken kebabs ($8) on a skewer were also overcooked ' charred, in fact. The morsels, while nicely marinated in lemon and garlic, were utterly desiccated.
A healthy and reasonably priced selection of wines is offered (25 or so are available by the glass), as well as a modest variety of beers on tap. In keeping with the small-plate theme, miniature dessert indulgences, a la Seasons 52, are offered for $3 a pop. Less light and airy than thick and dense, the chocolate mousse wound up taking a backseat to the pecan pie, a perfectly toothsome ending.
OLV hasn't quite fulfilled its potential, but that doesn't mean that one day it won't ' the space is inviting and the menu is tightly edited enough for the kitchen to catch up. Until then, the café can believe it can be what diners want it to be, but when hopes are dashed, reality bites.
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