Note: reservations accepted for groups of six or more
Ontario restaurants that are open only for the gentle months may
have the pleasure of the bountiful harvest to work with, but if they
have their heart in braised dishes, root vegetables and hearty
soups, they need to have their doors open in December. The long
slow roast doesn\’t sell well in July.
Stev George\’s first restaurant was open May to September in
Gananoque. It was called Casa Bella (named for his eldest daughter
Bella) and I was a fan. His new restaurant Olivea (inspired by a
second daughter, Olivia, who must share her name with an olive in
true second-born fashion) is a year-round operation, opened this
past spring and located in Kingston. Its wall of windows overlooks
the National Historic Site of City Hall, and its 200-year-old Market
Square, now covered with an open-air skating rink.
George\’s December menu is stuffed with the big cosy flavours
necessary for dining with a view of bundled gliders. As they circle
the rink, we tuck into comfort dishes: frites with veal cheek stew
and local cheese curds; chicken grilled under brick with salmoriglio,
orecchiette with rapini and sausages, osso buco with gremolata.
A good portion of Olivea\’s Mediterranean-Italian menu focuses on
small plates. Pasta dishes are offered in two portion sizes. You can
browse through the menu, nibbling on this and that, or opt for a
more conventional arrangement of starter and main.
Our grazing revealed confident and hearty dishes. The Sicilian snack
called arancine are a trio of fried golf balls of porcini-studded
risotto, breaded and fried, their centres gooey with oozing Fontina
cheese, served with a warm, spicy and very fresh tomato salsa.
Squid is very tender, perfectly grilled and served with a hot red
chilli pepper sauce prettily mingled with a mild, rich aioli.
Gnocchi are a litmus taste for an Italian restaurant and Olivea\’s
gnocchi are toothy, but also incredibly light, dressed beautifully
with a ragu of veal cheeks.
The seafood is bountiful and in fine condition – shrimp, mussels,
squid – in a spicy tomato sauce with basil, olives and capers, on a
bed of linguine.
We order two sides (in the \’contorni\’ section of the menu) to go
with our main dish of squashed chicken. The risotto is worth every
penny of its $7 price tag. I should think there might be $7 worth of
saffron threads imbedded in the pumpkin coloured rice. It is a
fabulous soupy, toothy dish. I could eat vats of it. The grilled
vegetables – eggplant, fennel, zucchini, peppers – are very well
cooked, but unseasoned, a bit dull. The chicken al mattone (under
brick) however, is nothing short of spectacular. Rubbed with oil,
garlic, lemon, parsley, oregano, and red chilies, and cooked under
the weight of a brick, the skin arrives beautifully bronzed, fragrant
as all get out, piquant because of the chillies, and the flesh is
utterly juicy. Very nice.
For dessert, a cool and classy panna cotta.
Two quibbles. I\’ve never liked a restaurant charging for bread. It
just seems wrong. And surely olives at Olivea could be on the house
too. I\’m sure they\’re worth $2.50, but asking for it strikes me as a
Olivea doesn\’t accept reservations unless you\’re a group of six or
more. That may be fine in July, when you can walk to another
joint. But when you\’re cold and hungry from a long hard skate, it\’s
critical to know your table is waiting.