A Peek Inside Todd English's Wild Olives
Either way, English's latest opening -- Wild Olives in Boca Raton -- has been churning along for over a month, drawing crowds and making headlines in the process. While it's not quite ready for a prime time review, we thought we'd head into English's new Boca restaurant and find out just how it's faring so far.
Wild Olives is a take on English's premier restaurant, Olives, which he opened in Boston in 1989. The restaurant debuted in November in the old Opus 5 spot in Boca Raton's Shops at Boca Center near the Town Center Mall. Lirim Jacobi, creator of the Taverna Opa franchise and partner to English on a number of South Florida ventures, partnered with English in Wild Olive's opening.
We noted in early 2009 in our review of da Campo Osteria, English's Fort Lauderdale restaurant in the Il Lugano Hotel, that service was not quite up to snuff. Sadly, the service at Wild Olives (at least in these early days) mirrors da Campo exactly. The restaurant staff, all black-draped waitrons mostly in their early twenties, seem confused and lost as they scrambled around the dining room. Though we were plenty of tables available on the night we visited, the hostess informed us it would be about a twenty minute wait. As if on queue, the restaurant's co-owner John Watson stepped up to the reservation desk and told the hostess to seat us immediately. (Note: I don't think I was marked as a critic) We took a seat at one of the large banquettes and were told someone would be with us shortly.
If only that were the case. After a few minutes of waiting to be helped, the restaurant's manager came over and informed us he didn't know who would be taking care of us yet, but he would find out right away. He took our wine order and sped off. We waited another 15 minutes or so before our waiter appeared with our wines, a glass of 2008 La Mura Rosso organic red ($8) and La Mura Bianco organic white ($8) the manger had recommended. I wasn't very happy with either -- we later switched to a 2006 reserve malbec from Terrazas de los Andes that was much better balanced.
What we ate was also a bit flawed. A Boston bibb lettuce salad (pictured at top) was fabulously presented, with a emerald mound of lettuce dusted with blue cheese, walnuts, and balsamic vinaigrette ($12). But is was also rather oily and overdressed, bogging down the once-crisp lettuce and masking the very conservative serving of cheese and nuts.
A tray of four carpet bagger oysters ($16) is one of Olives' signature dishes. Unfortunately, the fried oysters -- reshelled, dolloped with mashed potatoes, and wrapped in a thin strip of beef carpaccio -- were on the bland side. The temperature differences between the lukewarm raw beef, the tepid potatoes, and the hot oyster were a little off-putting as well. Another English specialty, a fig and prosciutto flatbread pizza ($16), exercised no restraint at all. It's loud mess of saccharine-sweet figs, heavy Gorgonzola cheese, and salty, dried out ham became too much after a slice or two.
It's obvious Wild Olives has some kinks to work out, particularly in the area of service. The prices as well are a bit on the high side -- $12 for Boston lettuce and a smattering of nuts is about as Boca as it gets. Still, Wild Olives shows some promise, and if it can improve on its flaws the romantic restaurant could become English's South Florida cash cow.