October 7, 2011 Olivia: Austin, TX
I’ve been to Olivia a handful of times. At the bottom of a menu with lamb tongue and sweetbreads is the offer of “vegetarian/vegan seasonal selections,” a mystery plate. So while your carnivorous friends ponder their multiple choices, you keep your fingers crossed that the mystery works out. One time it was a quinoa dish with red pepper dish, flavorful and creative and colorful, lay under the shroud of mystery. Another time it was pasta, delicious but still just pasta, which felt like an afterthought for vegetarians. I think they’re now offering vegetarians a choice of starch (quinoa, gnocchi, barley) with vegetables.
For Austin Restaurant Week, Olivia offered vegetarians crudite as a starter, ratatouille as a main, and two desserts. (Given the recent trend towards bacon in everything, I feel compelled to point out that the desserts were veg-friendly.) My friend ordered a cheese plate to share and gnocchi with a chef’s selection of vegetables, both from the regular menu. The cheerful servers accommodated her request to avoid mushrooms and not hold back on the green beans.
My crudite starter was a deconstructed salad with lettuce, green beans, carrots — and a thick buttermilk dressing that was more like a dip. The simple presentation showcased the crisp, fresh from the restaurant garden, veggies. My friend’s cheese plate had chevre wrapped in the herb hoja santa, local muenster, Point Reyes blue, and a fruit chutney. Terrific.
We sat outside to enjoy the cooling weather, but the interior is gorgeous. It’s a slice of LA on South Lamar.
The ratatouille was brought to life by the polenta. Instead of the customary pile of mush, this polenta was in the form of crispy sticks. I’m going to need polenta in stick form from now on.
My friend’s gnocchi was good, though she found it a tad dry. Lots of vegetables on both plates.
We ordered both desserts: marinated chevre that was like our cheese plate all over again, and a chocolate malt pie with cognac, grape, chocolate chip cookie, and goat’s milk ice cream. It was sweet, all of it – would probably have been better with a dusting of sea salt. The ice cream on its own would have been enough for me.
No doubt Olivia offers some of the most sophisticated cooking in town. But you have to be a carnivore to keep yourself entertained with repeat visits. For vegetarians, it’s starch of your choice + veggies.