Olive and Oak was hopping when we arrived a few minutes early for a late dinner reservation. It’s always heartening to see a dining room, especially in the suburbs, moving and grooving at an hour when most are winding down. Staying up late to dine is far less common now than it was, say, when television was newish and its only late night alternatives were Jack Paar or the movie after the 10 o’clock news – which ran 15 minutes in those days.
So there we were, enjoying the busy room – plenty of plants but not at all resembling a fern bar of the Seventies, very pleasant. It was about the right time for a table turn.
But we ran into two problems. One wasn’t the restaurant’s fault. The other? Well, you’ll see.
We needed more than a four-top. And therein was the rub. The people at the six-top we were scheduled for weren’t moving. They were camping out at the table. They had the check. They just weren’t leaving. There was no room at the bar to usher them there; it was busy and all the high-topped tables and the counters were occupado. And there were no other seating arrangements that could be juggled at that point. The owner working the front of the house was very apologetic. The hostesses were disconsolate. Even the servers were sorry. But the group didn’t move.
We were finally seated 50 minutes after our reservation time. Very few local restaurants figure that a party will occupy a table for three hours. Some leisurely-paced white-tablecloth spots may, but even then I suspect the working figure will be two and a half hours. I hope that party tipped very well indeed.
There wasn’t anything the restaurant could have done. One certainly doesn’t expect the management to throw them out. We were assured the kitchen were preparing an appetizer for us that would be ready the moment we sat down, not at our request but as an offering from the management.
But sit we did, and I must say the appetizer and its companions, also gratis, were good. The crab gratin was remarkable, a little heat (Calabrian chile, says the menu) alongside the celery notes that remind one of Old Bay Seasoning, the creamy, thick mixture warm and dippable with the batons of pretzel bread and some celery sticks, which were also warmed. Smoked turkey meatballs, tender and not at all dry, were in an agrodulce sauce over a little creamy polenta. The house bread, sourdough with some whole wheat flour, charmed, the accompanying butter slightly sweet. The bread did yeoman work of wiping up the garlicky butter under crumbs that topped some baked shrimp.
The Dip, a lamb sandwich on a crusty roll, held slices of well-done leg of lamb, accompanied by a bowl of jus in which to dip the sandwich. The meat was tender, and the flavor fine – it would be a good introduction to lamb for those new to it. A small slice of the Spanish cheese that translates as drunken goat was under the meat. Fries alongside were pretty good, with some subtle, unidentifiable seasoning, which hit my tongue, but not one of my pal’s, as slightly sweet, creating a light crusting on the potato.
Two of us decided to order one of the two entrees-for-two, the other being the 32-ounce prime “cowboy steak”, which is a ribeye. Our choice was the Dover sole, which came with a mushroom risotto. Four boneless fillets, the fish having been deboned and skinned in the kitchen, lay atop the platter of risotto. While the fish was properly cooked and the risotto a real risotto – which is to say it wasn’t pre-cooked rice that had been stirred into a sauce, something that still happens around town occasionally, there were problems with the dish. The garnish, chopped black olives, overwhelmed the delicate taste of the fish. The risotto was oozing olive oil and some liquid. And the entire dish was barely above room temperature, even the risotto, which is a dish that, if anything, tends to hold the heat too well. (It’s why Italians traditionally eat it around the edges, to allow it cool.) The mushroom-y risotto tasted fine, but overall the dish lacked the feeling of indulgence that both Dover sole and risotto should produce in the diner.
The temperature maladjustment continued with a glass of cava, which was barely cold, although a pinot noir was nicely cellar temp. Perhaps they had been stored together.
Dessert? Whoever thought of brulee-ing rice pudding? It’s a good idea, especially with the rice cooked with chai spices, a nicely comfort food-ish piece of work that rises well above the cliché.
Our server worked hard to keep things moving – it certainly isn’t the servers’ fault for the delay in being seated, the cold fish and the warm wine. Those flubs make their jobs harder because diners are disgruntled.
This is a good-looking menu, and many people are clearly very happy about the restaurant. But they’ve been open for around a year, and glitches like these should have been worked out long ago. We appreciate their apologies and efforts to make things right – and diners should be aware of their own camping out – but it made for an unsuccessful evening overall.
Olive + Oak
102 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Entrees and sandwiches: $12-$30