After interacting with Todd English (though admittedly very briefly) during the Google Chef competition March 5th, I was inspired to dine at his well known chain restaurant Olives, housed in Union Square’s W Hotel. I didn’t know much about his style of cooking before meeting him, and to be honest, I never had the incentive to learn. But after meeting him in person, thumbing through his cookbooks, and looking at his snazzy website (you guessed it, ToddEnglish.com), I became intrigued and decided to give it a try. And, after an enduring evening of devouring seven courses, two glasses of wine, and 1 (or 2?) delicious cocktails at the place, I can confidently say that I am thrilled I took the trip.
This entry runs the risk of being exceptionally lengthy as I intend to give due justice to everything I tasted at Olives. The quantity of food my two girlfriends and I consumed was unthinkable, and I get flashbacks of stomach pains whenever I recount the night. But, each course deserves bounties of praise, so I’ll stop my intro here and cut to the chase before I lose you.
After sitting down and sipping a specialty pineapple-ginger martini, we decided to order a standout on the menu – the Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread with rosemary crust, sweet and sour fig jam, gorgonzola cheese, and prosciutto di parma. Wow. All I can say is WOW. For some reason I am a sucker for oblong-shaped pizzas – imperfections in the dough make me happy. And this flatbread wasn’t the typical sweet ingredient with strong cheese combo flatbread – the rosemarry golden brown dough was just perfection with the unique flavor of the sour fig jam and soft gorgonzola. With such generous portions of prosciutto on each square, I could have had this as a meal, and would consider returning just for this dish.
We then decided on a tasting of some of Todd English’s favorites. We moved onto something lighter – a duo of Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with spun cucumber salad, crispy rock shrimp, sesame dressing, whitefish caviar, and silky scallop ceviche beautifully presented atop a grilled meyer lemon. The plate was gorgeous, as you can almost see in my terrible photos (at that point I was more concerned with eating). The tartare tasted so incredibly fresh, and the dressing provided a warm subtle hint of toasted sesame. I generally stay away from raw scallops, but these were just perfection – not slimy or chewy in the slightest, but buttery and tender.
NEXT, we were given the most inventive combo of the night – roasted duck piled with a crispy garnish and oh, no big deal, seared foie gras. As an accomplished 21-day cleanser, this course at one point would have looked like the devil to me, but I was intrigued. With reluctance, I tasted it, and within seconds, I was a convert. THE MOST incredible meat combination I’ve tried – silky, rich foie gras with delicate pieces of sweet duck breast. The mix of insanity, discovery, and gluttony I felt upon eating this was all so overwhelming.
We’re just halfway, so be patient. We were then given a crab bisque which was brought to the table in pitchers alongside a bowl holding a large, shelled crab leg. The presentation was quite enticing – the crab was calling my name! The bisque itself, once poured into the bowl, was hot, incredibly flavorful, and though lighter and smoother in consistency than bisque I’ve had prior, it had every bit of intricate flavor I would expect from a master chef.
Then, we finished off the savory dishes with the other favorite of mine – the pasta tasting. We were each served a small sampling of Tortelli of Butternut Squash with brown butter, sage, parmesan, Parsnip Candy Wrappers with brown butter wild mushroom sauce, thyme, and parmesan, and dense, short pieces of Twisted Spaghetti with tomato basil ragu. The tomato pasta was a perfect compliment to the rich and creamy ones surrounding it, and all three were incredible. The parsnip candy wrappers had a wonderfully buttery sweetness that I’ve never tasted in pasta, and were definitely my favorite.
At this point any prospect of leaving the restaurant without popping a button was shot, so we graciously accepted our dessert, which Todd English referred to as the “Chocolate Orgasm.” A bit alarming of a name, but I can’t think of a better description, as it was probably one of the best chocolate desserts I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Todd loves to mix flavors, temperatures, and textures in everything he creates, even his desserts. Warm chocolate cake with crunchy cookie crumble, chocolate pop rocks and a large scoop of homemade chocolate gelato did quite the job of satisfying every possible craving I could imagine.
AND, that’s not it. We were, without choice, then served two vanilla souffles, hot out of the oven, which the server then immediately filled with large scoops of citrus vanilla gelato and creme anglaise. Of course I had to taste it, but at that point I didn’t want to disturb the lovely memory of chocolate heaven, and I couldn’t imagine putting an additional ounce of food in my body.
All in all, I was blown away by every course at Olives. Todd English deserves all of the praise and accolades he’s given – he’s a genius artist in the kitchen and has a keen sense of mixing and matching flavors, textures, and temperatures to invent unique novelties for even the most experienced foodie. Though the restaurant resides in the hotel and shares some of the stark and standard warehouse like feel of a typical hotel venue, the location is convenient, reservations aren’t too competitive, and the food alone is worth giving it a try. Let me know what you think if you do!
Address: W Union Square: 201 Park Ave. South, at 17th St.