Today was day 1 of my parents’ visit to NYC, and we kicked off the trip with a dinner at Olana followed by Gypsy on Broadway. BF and I subwayed it from work, taking the W to 28th St. I find the neighborhood to be a slightly odd spot for a restaurant like this one, but it’s a beautiful space. Love the red velvet and the fabulous chandelier above the bar. Anyway, we were seated promptly and since I had told them we were heading to a show, we were given menus and such right away. Dad and BF ordered beers (not much of a selection there), Mom had a glass of red, and I ordered one of their signature cocktails, called a Brooklyn Railyard – a pear liqueur concoction that tasted a bit like pear flavored grapefruit juice (I like grapefruit juice, so this was a good thing!). Service was quite good in general, although there were almost too many servers flitting about for my taste. Anyway, on to the food!
Because there were so many interesting choices on the menu, we decided to go for the 4 course tasting. At $68, it seemed like a great deal, until the courses started arriving. They were NOT kidding when they called it a tasting – the portions were small and in some cases, miniscule. I was pleasantly full when we left, but only because I ate quite a bit of bread (which by the way was only okay – they offered olive, onion, raisin and sourdough rolls. The fillings were great – I am a sucker for anything olive – but the bread itself was a little chewy and not that interesting). If I hadn’t, I would have been hungry for sure. Anyway, between the 4 of us, we ordered: chestnut crespelle, kobe beef tongue raviolo, octopus salad, beet salad, veal/ricotta cappellacci, spaghetti alla chitarra with razor clams, asparagus and morel risotto, grilled scallops, apricot/foie stuffed rabbit, grilled veal, grilled beef filet, carrot cake, rhubarb strudel and lemon crème brulee. A couple of these were specials, and the menu online is not entirely up to date (they’ve raised their prices on certain items substantially, changed the preparation of some things, etc).
-Chestnut crespelle were okay, but a tiny portion – one crepe, about half the size of a post-it note. There were no pine nuts to be found, just a few mushrooms scattered about, and no discernable chestnut flavor. The filling was simply oversalted ricotta. I was really looking forward to this dish from the menu description and the photo on the website, and I was definitely disappointed.
-Beef tongue raviolo was the best thing we had all night (it was a special, btw). It was a single large raviolo, stuffed with wonderfully seasoned ground beef tongue, in some sort of butter sauce, with pan roasted cherry tomatoes and a few other accompaniments. Delicious. The filling just melted in your mouth. BF ordered this but I ate most of it (sorry BF, I was still hungry after my 2 bites of crepe!).
-Octopus salad was unremarkable and the octopus was a little tough. Not terrible, but I’ve had equally good octopus at a million greek diners and much better octopus at Babbo, Molyvos, etc.
-Beet salad went untasted by me because I hate beets, but my mother and BF enjoyed it. The goat cheese accompaniment was wrapped in phyllo dough and baked, which was an interesting touch. However, it was also a fairly small portion and my mother would have preferred more beets and less cheese.
-Veal and ricotta cappellaci were totally unremarkable. The tomato sauce overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the filling (although I did get one bite with a raisin in it that showed promise). This was also a small portion – 2 pieces which were about the size of a scallop.
-Spaghetti with clams was my dad’s pick and I am guessing it must have been good because he didn’t share! He mentioned that the clams were cooked perfectly, which was a pleasant surprise for him after the tough octopus.
-Asparagus and morel risotto was quite good, though a little overly savory. I don’t want to say it was too salty, but there was too much cheese or stock or some other savory element that made it difficult to taste the freshness of the asparagus.
-Grilled scallops were absolutely delicious – my second favorite after the raviolo. 2 perfectly cooked, slightly rare beauties on a bed of wilted greens (chives, mustard greens, maybe – I couldn’t identify everything), topped with thin fingerling potato chips that added just the right touch of salt. Really great. BF had these as his 2nd taste, for which I thought 2 scallops was an appropriate portion, but my father ordered this as his 3rd taste (which I thought was supposed to be more of a “main,” given the tinyness of the first 2 courses), and he also only received 2 scallops.
-Grilled veal was a little chewy but had EXCELLENT flavor – I can’t remember ever eating such assertive veal, ever. The potato gnocchi that came with were tough and doughy, but the vegetables (peas, carrots, etc) were quite good.
-Grilled beef filet was also excellent – the beef was buttery tender. This was served on a vegetable and herb pancake/fritter of some type with a corn relish beneath. I’m not a big fan of corn, but the fritter was delicious, nice and light with great fresh herby flavor.
-Stuffed rabbit was a LAUGHABLY small portion. There were literally three silver dollar sized slices, each about 1/8” thick. There could not have been more than 2 ounces of meat on the plate, and I am not exaggerating. I find it difficult to comment on the flavor because I really don’t feel like I ATE anything! The filling was a dime-sized circle in the middle of the rabbit, so unless you ate the piece in one bite, chances were that you weren’t going to taste the filling. What I did taste had no discernable foie flavor – it mostly tasted of almond and apricot, and the rabbit overall sort of tasted like a not-very-good sausage of some type. Big disappointment, especially since I was debating this dish vs. an interesting shrimp-crusted ahi tuna special and the manager steered me to the rabbit as one of their signature dishes. I actually enjoyed the cannellini beans and carrot puree that accompanied the rabbit much more than the rabbit itself, and I am not a fan of beans or carrots!
-Carrot cake was a huge hit – very moist and flavorful. Cream cheese ice cream wasn’t cream-cheesy enough for my liking, but it was fine. The cranberry compote didn’t jive with the overall flavor, so we ignored it. I particularly liked the garnish on this – there was a ruffle of what I assumed to be phyllo dough stuck in the cake, but when I tasted it I found that it was dehydrated pineapple. I have no idea how they got it that thin, but it was delicious – it melted into essence of pineapple as soon as it hit your tongue.
-Rhubarb strudel was delicious – nice and tart rhubarb filling in a little phyllo strudel packet. The accompanying pain d’epices ice cream was AMAZING. Very spicy, heavy on the clove and cinnamon. It was an interesting juxtaposition of spring flavor (rhubarb) and fall flavor (spice). I would love to put a big scoop of the ice cream on a slice of apple pie sometime!
-Lemon crème brulee was also excellent. The custard was silky and light with a wonderful floral essence and clear lemon flavor with only a hint of tang. My father is a huge crème brulee snob and uses it as a benchmark by which to judge all restaurants – he was very impressed.
Anyway, overall I liked Olana but didn’t love it. It certainly didn’t pack the wallop that Degustation did for me recently. I would go back, but I think I would order full entrees, etc, rather than doing the tasting, because I probably would have gotten more bang for my buck that way. I might also wait for their fall/winter menu to roll around again, because it looked far more interesting to me. It is a good option in the area, though, and certainly a good spot for pre-theatre – with a 5:30 reservation, we were out by 7:30 and at the theatre (via cab) by 7:45.