Olive is at 743 Larkin @ O'Farrell, San Francisco, 415 776 9814
Time of visit, 8.30 pmish Saturday 25th September 2004
In the deepest, darkest, depths of the Tenderloin where it might not be
a bad idea to pay a friendly, loitering vagrant to watch your street-parked
wheels, you might stumble across a mysterious, closed wooden door
displaying no indication of the friendly little bar, Olive, that lurks
behind it. Leaving the perilous streets behind, you enter a cool
loft-height space with tall white walls, wooden floors and bar height
stools and tables to your left. Art for sale, large, striking, modern
pieces, flaunt the white space whilst wall-set curly-whirly-wiggly-stemmed lamps not only lighten and brighten the space, but also add an eclectic touch of humour to the decor.
The bar runs along the right side with further seating. It is a bar, yes, but everyone is seated, it's not too crowded or too noisy and there is a little bit of munching and nibbling going on at most tables, due to the short menu of very reasonably priced snacks available to accompany cocktails.
My friend's K and H have been regular regulars at Olive in the past and
I visited once before with them about 6 months ago. As H was visiting SF
from his new abode North of the Border he was anxious to return to one
of his prior haunts for a little taste of what I am sure he would call
K had thoughtfully reserved the 6 of us a table in the front left
alcove. A high window space above us was fashioned from frosted material
emanating some sort of glowy white light which was a far more mystical image than an alternative clear glass view of Larkin and the 'Loin might have been.
We squooshed into our corner table, an uncomfortable mish-mash of square and rounded shapes, hard chairs and soft banquette, as the waiter plonked down a namesake bowl of mixed olives and menus. H needed nothing other than memory to order what he had been thinking about. Ginger martinis, spicy baked tiger prawns and baked Brie with roasted garlic and fresh fruit (2 of each).
Alas, Olive no longer make the Ginger Martini's that had partly caused H and K to become such dedicated customers. Other drinks were settled on instead, for myself, a Watermelon Martini. This was served large, cold, pink and sweet with a huge watermelon wedge adorning. I loved this drink, reminding me of candy and Summer but imagine it may be a little too flowery for the tastes of customers with more savoury tastebuds. Fred reported that his Mojito was good.
Fred and myself both chose pizzas. These are a reasonable size, not so big as to be unmanageable, but certainly big enough to satisfy a standard-sized hungry stomach. Fred liked his pepperoni, I chose the wild mushrooms with truffle oil. The pizzas are thin and crisp with a tasty crust, just the right amount of cheese and are served on a thin metal plate. I liked my pizza too, although I couldn't determine what made the generous portion of mushrooms 'wild'? Maybe the portobellos were just a little bit mad that they had been sliced so finely and stewed into submission before their life as a pizza topping began. Had they been finely sauteed instead, this pizza really might have been something else.
I tried some of the other dishes. The prawns, drowning in a dangerously hot pool of oily juice had no discernible spicy overtones. They were overcooked too, and the poor chewy creature I tasted did not compel me to try one of his siblings.
I liked the Baked Brie more, it had a very earthy taste and was good and gooey. As I reached the bottom of the dish I discovered the soft-cooked garlic melted in with the cheese. The garlic was overpowering and didn't taste as fresh as it might have been, a small blight on what was otherwise a satisfying and comforting appetizer.
One of our party tried the Tuna Ceviche. I didn't get to try his dish. However, later, when we stopped by Bambuddha for a post-Olive drink he made some comment about Bambuddha's food. I didn't quite catch what he said and asked for an explanation. He remarked "Well the food here can't be any worse than at Olive", which suggests to me the ceviche didn't impress him one jot.
The Olive regulars sighed and admitted they thought that the standards at one of their favourite bars had gone down hill. Despite the casual but really friendly, and welcomed good service, the fact that there are no longer any ginger martinis, and the food is not quite up to scratch, Olive, for them, is not at the level by which they like to remember the place anymore.