I’ve been delayed in trying The Olive Café. Though it has been attached to its sister retail shop, Taste the Olive, coming up on a year, I’ve been unable to find my way over there for various reasons. Now I wish I’d given it even more time.
For those unfamiliar, Taste the Olive is a brilliant little retail shop primarily offering various olive oils and vinegars. Their products are served at one of my favorite spots, Roko, and I can’t get enough of their sweet balsamic vinegar when paired with a good loaf of bread.
The Olive Café looks like a flashback from a movie—that ubiquitous scene in which an old man remembers Paris just after the war. There is something about the black and golden-rod decor or the laid-back atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the French translation of “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” playing gently in the background, but the whole place feels like someone else’s hazy memory.
I opened with the candied-spiced bacon pops. Served on skewers like satay, they’re single strips of spiced bacon prepared with Taste the Olive’s maple balsamic vinegar. The first bite is a heavenly blend of sweetness, saltiness, spiciness, and bitterness. The third bite is pleasant enough. By the fifth bite, it becomes a chore. The bacon is simply too rich to be eaten alone. Put two strips of it on most of the sandwiches I’ve reviewed in town, and they would have gotten more favorable outcomes. On their own, the bacon pops are too potent for more than two bites. I’m not one to normally decry decadence, but this was too much even for me.
I moved on to the Charleston She Crab Soup. Unfortunately, it’s the wateriest version of the recipe I’ve tried. The soup lacks the cream as noted on the menu as an ingredient. With so little dairy to cut the brandy, the harsh flavor of cooking liquor comes through powerfully. I will say the portions of crab are outstanding here. I dutifully picked through the soup for chunks of lump and claw meat. As a whole, though, it fell short of expectations.
I couldn’t resist tasting the portion of the menu dubbed “Cheese Toasties.” “Apples and Cheese, Oh My” comes with sliced apples and artisan cheddar on an open-faced sandwich with caramelized onions, French mustard, and a bit more of the maple balsamic vinegar from next door. The mellow cheddar and the bright, acidic green apples are a classic pairing which complement one another beautifully. The sweetened onions play nicely with the bitter whole-grain mustard. The sandwich is elegantly crafted so that no single bite misses any element of the dish as a whole. Thus, the taste experience is even. The baked sweet-potato wedges served on the side add to the experience by breaking up the flavors and cleansing the palate periodically.
From their “Small Plates,” the “Succulent Scallops” maintain a fair description if ever there were one. Lightly seasoned and seared beautifully, the three large scallops are everything I could ask for in this shellfish. With just a hint of salt, the rich brine of the sea comes through in every bite. Still, that’s all there was: three really big scallops. As with the bacon pops, I found myself yearning for anything to cut through the monotony and rich, dense flavor profiles. Even the tiniest bit of salad on the side would have made this one a big winner.
The end of my meal came with the chocolate red-wine torte, and I wish it hadn’t. The red wine tasted so pungent I began to guess the varietal. Paired with a dry texture, it is not worth the calories.
I do give The Olive Café credit for their extensive wine list, including an old favorite, Belle Glos Meomi Pinot Noir, which is available by the glass. Likewise, the service is attentive and friendly. I should also point out that the menu is quite extensive, and it would take a lot of visits to sample everything. But it is also quite pricey.
The shame of The Olive Café is that I really wanted to like it. The food is imaginative but not well enough executed. The potential certainly is there, but The Olive Café isn’t living up to that potential just yet.
The Olive Café and Wine Bar
1125 Military Cutoff Rd
Hours: Mon. – Tues.: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Wed. – Thurs.: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri. – Sat.: 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Sun. (brunch): 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
http://olivecafenc.com • 910-679-4772