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Review: Olivia restaurant in Hollywood looks good, but food lags behind | Video

 

★★½

The amount of enjoyment a diner may derive from a meal at Olivia depends on the type of restaurantgoer one is. For those who place a premium on design and atmosphere, prepare to be wowed. For those who care more about food and flavor, prepare to be underwhelmed. I’m usually in the food-first camp, but Olivia has enough virtues for me to say it merits a trip to Hollywood. The architecturally and gastronomically curious can form their own opinions.

For shock value alone, the journey to Young Circle will be worth it. Longtime South Floridians will be amazed to see how a parcel that once housed a drab Greyhound bus terminal and chain pizzeria has been transformed into the sleek and chic Circ Hotel and Residences. The complex is part South Beach (with a rooftop bar that includes an ocean view), part Fort Lauderdale high-rise and part Publix. A new supermarket was built at ground level beneath the garage, insuring a lively parade of Hollyweirdians at all hours. From my table at Olivia, I could see the soothing glow of a Publix sidewalk sign through a white-curtained, floor-to-ceiling window.

Olivia’s interior is much more impressive. The Italian restaurant, which opened in June, cost some $7 million to build. It features high ceilings, marble wall tile and columns, wood floors and paneling and dramatic copper lighting fixtures that look like giant cymbals made of Calphalon cookware.

Built at ground level of the Circ Hotel, Olivia is airy and spacious, with 200 seats spread across 9,000 square feet. One enters the hotel and Olivia from a driveway off Polk Street. Walk past the bar to the left and a private dining room with wine wall to the right, and Olivia unfurls like curls of a ribbon, a soaring, big-windowed expanse. Tables sit apart at comfortable distances. A mozzarella bar where cheeses are made fresh daily and a wood-burning oven ring the center of the room.

White linen adorns tables, some with banquettes and others with low-backed chairs that are a little too reclined but comfortable. The place is glamorous and modern, a 21st century archetype of what hotel dining should be.

“When I had the chance to come to Hollywood, I wanted to make a statement,” Olivia managing partner Piero Filpi says. Filpi is a South Florida restaurant veteran, making his mark with the stylish Mezzanotte in Miami Beach (1988-2003) when South Beach was first becoming a thing before opening Carpaccio in 1995 in the Bal Harbour Shops, where it is still going strong.

Unfortunately, the statement made by the uneven food I encountered during my lone visit to Olivia was closer to meh than Mezzanotte. The mozzarella bar was a highlight, with our table enjoying a superb creamy burrata with marinated vegetables ($17.95), and other appetizers were good, including a vibrant minced tuna tartar ($10.25) with olives, capers and mangoes (it worked) and basic beef carpaccio ($10.50) with arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano. Humble chicken Marsala ($17.50) was very good, with pounded chicken breasts cooked perfectly tender and juicy. But some food still needs work, with pastas that were gummy and meats that were underseasoned and tough.

Prices are fair, including for a good wine list, lower than what one might expect given the surroundings. Give Filpi credit. He obviously has done his homework and knows that he can’t charge South Beach or Fort Lauderdale beach prices in downtown Hollywood, where Italian restaurants abound and patrons tend to resist any entree that soars north of $30. A seafood pasta special with Maine lobster tail, clams and mussels was offered at $27.95 on the night I dined. We tried the fish special instead, snapper francese ($32.95), a decent-size fillet coated in egg and flour with a lemon-butter sauce that could have used a bit more zing.

Filpi says he jumped at the chance to work with hotelier Richard Millard, of Coral Gables-based Trust Hospitality, to open Olivia. Filpi also operates the rooftop bar, where limited food service (chilled bites, sushi, tacos) will launch later this year. Instead of bringing seasoned pros from Carpaccio, Filpi has brought in a new crew at Olivia. The kitchen is helmed by chefs Massimiliano Lozzi of Rome, whose experience includes Casa Tua in Miami Beach and the Vatican, and Marcello Sindoni, who worked with Filpi at Il Toscano in Weston, which closed earlier this decade.

Olivia is not named for an actual person but a fictional Sicilian immigrant whose visage graces the restaurant’s website. The story evokes Filpi’s background — he came from Palermo to the United States in 1962 — and the name evokes olive oil and romantic, rolling Italian hillsides, but it also brings up the name “Olive Garden” on Google’s auto fill-in when one searches for Olivia. Oops.

Some items seemed closer to chain than upscale restaurant. The meatballs ($9.50) were dense and bland, with a small dollop of ricotta and decent tomato sauce. The four-cheese gnocchi ($18.50) was heavy and gluey, and the Parmesan crisp bowl it came in was a mismatch, although I did love it when I snapped off pieces and swiped it through the short-rib ragu sauce that accompanied housemade pappardelle ($21.95). That pasta was also starchy and gummy.

New Zealand lamb chops ($26.95) and a grilled veal chop special ($41.95) were both underseasoned and tough, with the lamb overcooked past medium rare and the veal needing more tenderizing.

The kitchen and service could use a bit more mindfulness. Asparagus that came in a vegetable medley with entrees was improperly prepped, with hard, inedible bottom bits not snapped off. Our server was friendly and attentive at meal’s beginning but then disappeared for long stretches, neglecting to ask how our mains were or if we needed anything (pepper would have been nice). Coffee was not hot and sludgy (Filpi says a problem with the coffee machines has been rectified). Lemon sorbet dessert ($7.95) was creatively served in a hollowed-out lemon, but the dish was frozen rock-solid and needed to defrost for 10 minutes. Perhaps there’s a way to keep them at higher temperature for softening?

With so many good Italian restaurants dotting the South Florida landscape, Olivia will need to up its flavors and execution to keep patrons coming back. It’s early, and I’m rooting for the place, but there is only so far good looks and novelty can carry a restaurant.

Olivia

1780 Polk St., Hollywood

954-500-1780 or OliviaRestaurantAndBar.com

Cuisine: Italian

Cost: Moderate to expensive. Soups, salads and appetizers cost $6-$15, mozzarella bar items $17-$19, pastas $17-$23, mains $18-$42, desserts $7-$9.

Hours: Open daily for breakfast (6-10:30 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and dinner (5-11 p.m.)

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full liquor with craft cocktails and prosecco drinks, and fairly priced Italian-centric wine list. Corkage for outside wine costs $15-$45, depending on the vintage.

Noise level: Conversational, with well-spaced tables and high ceilings

Wheelchair access: Ground level.

Parking: Valet or free street.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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