Seeing more Mediterranean items become permanent fixtures on menus is hardly surprising, given the cuisine's health benefits and the simple flavor combinations appealing to all palates. Outside the trendy Plaza complex, the pan-Med movement seems to have found a permanent home inside the Black Olive, a shimmering, smartly dressed space on the corner of Pine Street and Orange Avenue. Chef Dan Kernan's uncomplicated menu comprising Moroccan, Spanish, Greek, French and Italian influences bends toward the latter, but not the heavily sauced, gut-busting dishes mamma used to make.
From the moment general manager David Miles extends a warm greeting, you know that service miscues will be kept to a minimum. Miles makes his presence known, and it's safe to say the man runs a tight ship. Our waiter's polished, attentive demeanor served to enhance our meal, which began with (what else?) an olive mélange ($5) ' a flowered flight of four varieties. The selections change daily, but we reveled in every fleshy bite of mild asaro, bold Sicilian kalamata, plump red cerignola and a zesty Greek kalamata mix.
With the Plaza Cinema Café situated next door, the restaurant makes an effort to cater to theatergoers ' a special three-course menu is available from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. for $19.95, giving diners the option to return to the restaurant after the movie for dessert. Good show! But a little theater is provided in the dining room as well ' fire-grilled grape leaves ($8) stuffed with chèvre are drizzled with sambuca, then set ablaze tableside. The resulting unexpected flavor profile is that of marshmallows roasted over a campfire, thanks to the sugar in the anise-flavored liqueur.
As expected, the pacing and timing of the dishes was closely monitored; soon after we finished the appetizers, as we sipped glasses of Chateau Belair bordeaux ($24) and Schloss riesling ($10), our entrees were delivered simultaneously. After lengthy descriptions of the wild mushroom ravioli ($19) and pistachio-crusted lamb chops ($28) were given, we heartily indulged. The ravioli deviated from the traditional: Three sheets of fresh pasta were filled with assorted wild mushrooms and black truffle sauce, then folded once into neat, appetizing pockets. Hand-shaved pecorino, alder-smoked sea salt and toasted pine nuts completed the plate, along with a petite yellow rose and chrysanthemum. Lamb chops cooked medium-rare were highlighted by a pistachio crumble wedded to the meaty racks with a coating of Dijon mustard. Just as good was the bed of flawless fennel risotto delightfully crunched with diced celery, and an accompanying arugula salad with organic peppers and beets.
A cordial cart with ports aplenty was a nice beginning to the meal's end, but the dolci proved to be the real showstoppers. Zeppole ($7), a handful of lightly fried dough balls dusted with powdered sugar and served with a warm hazelnut-chocolate soup, were a treat. Slightly crunchy ladyfingers weren't exactly soaked in espresso, but that didn't stop me from savoring every bite of tiramisu ($7).
A glass-enclosed wine vault stocked with hundreds of bottles offers a more intimate venue for special occasions (there is a minimum $100 per head cost), while the martini and cocktail crowd are sure to luxuriate in the cozy lounge. The restaurant's interior fuses both modern and classical elements ' wood slats float above satiny banquettes and marble tables flanked with white leather-backed chairs, while a bas-relief of Bacchus entices diners into a state of satiated exaltation. At the Black Olive, that's pretty much a given.