Upon entering The Olive Market in Redding, you can’t help but be surprised by the unique setting. Envision Pottery Barn mixed in with a little Williams Sonoma, add a dash of Murray’s Cheese Shop…well, you get the picture. The Olive Market's menu, under Chef Fernando, displays a similarly intriguing fusion of foods with influences from Uruguay, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. Here you will find everything from empanadas, tapas and fondue, to paninis and pizzas. They also sell cheeses and olives by the pound and have a very browse-worthy home goods store attached to the café. The store stays open until the restaurant closes so there’s plenty of time to check out the goods while waiting for your food to arrive.
Dining tables are nestled amongst shelves lined with a beautiful array of gourmet food items like olive oils, flavored salts, fondue pots, and cooking tools. I even found O & Co. White Truffle Oil which I thought I could only purchase in Grand Central. Terrazzo tiles, dark blue ceilings and vibrantly colored paintings add to the eclectic, warm atmosphere.
On a recent Thursday five of my nearest and dearest gathered at The Olive Market…bottles of wine in hand. We gladly paid the $12 corkage fee (per bottle) although it did take some encouraging to get the bottles open. We began the meal by sampling two varieties of cheese fondue. The traditional fondue, recommended by the waiter, was a creamy blend of Gruyere, Emmentaler, garlic, white wine and nutmeg, and was later voted the highlight of the evening. This fondue was served with cubes of fresh light foccaccia which nicely absorbed the deeply layered flavors that just kept coming. Its counterpoint, the El Fuego Fondue, had tortilla chips as an accompaniment, and was a blend of warm cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, Corona beer, cilantro and lime zest. The El Fuego was surprisingly mundane despite the highly promising ingredient list.
As if we hadn't consumed enough cheese at this point, we also ordered a cheese board with two varieties of cheese, thinly sliced dry sausage, crackers and a mix of marinated olives. The first sample, the Taleggio, was truly a treat. The texture was light and creamy yet had a flavor so bold it could stare down any blue cheese. Our 2nd cheese selection, a Vasterbotten, was a firm, parmesan-like cheese from Sweden, and was so mild it would have been put to better use grated over pasta or perhaps used in their fondue. The sausage was spicy and flavorful and the olives (as per the name) were as good as I've had in Fairfield County.
Tapas is only served at dinner, so we felt compelled to order the El Mundo for two, one of the menu's three large tapas platters. "The World," as it would be called in English, is just what you’d expect…a little bit of everything. Eleven tapas items are served with chips, guacamole and dessert. This course consisted mainly of grilled meats, most of which were not particularly distinctive despite their interesting descriptions (Orange and Rosemary Lamb Chops, Chicmichurri Pork just to name a few). There were three dipping sauces deposited by the waiter without comment, but it was a mystery as to which sauces were for which meats. With some grilling (pun intended), I managed to eke out a description of the 3 dips: a chimichurri, a Green Sauce with Avocado, and a sweet tomatoey sauce that looked like ketchup and had the texture of ketchup but with a much more sophisticated flavor. The Green Sauce with Avocado was a true winner, consisting of pureed avocado, jalapeno peppers, celery and cilantro. The dips brought a little life to the skewered meats, and were perfect for mixing and matching.
Grilled zucchini, pepper, and eggplant skewers came next, a simply prepared but nicely cooked respite from all the protein. The Garlic and Lime Shrimp over Rice, a generous serving of plump shrimp, yellow rice, tomato, parsley and jalapeno, lulled us with a garlicky buttery flavor and then BAM! A surprise kick at the end thanks to jalapeno. The Spinach Bunuelos, "Spinach Balls," were reminiscent of falafel, lightly fried and flavored with olive oil, garlic and a not unpleasant punch of salt. If cinnamon sugar dusted deep fried dough sounds good to you, then finish off your meal with their Churros with Dulce de Leche. They were warm, light and not at all greasy. Dulce delicious!
I would have liked to have tried some of the tapas items listed on their website like Chorizo and Fig Crostini or Goat Cheese Crostini with honey to break up the meat-centric course but they were not on the evening’s menu. In fact there was a notable disconnect from their online menu so don't be surprised if you are not offered all of the individual tapas seen online.
Intrigued by the food at The Olive Market, but confused by the spotty service, I returned with my friend Nancy to try lunch. This meal was considerably smoother.
At lunch, you order at the counter, so you're on your own and you have only yourself to blame. There is no waiter to leave you frustrated (although they do bring the dishes to the table), but there is also no tapas served during the daylight hours.
We started with the Verde, a pizza with mozzarella, provolone, garlic and, believe it or not, chimichurri sauce. Italy meets Argentina and, surprise, it’s a match made in heaven. The mellow $5 cost of the pizza belies the zesty green punch of flavor. We split a Maryland Blue Crab Salad which came in a bowl of carved out ripe avocado filled with diced celery and heaps of lump crab meat coated lightly with mayo . The accompanying organic greens with carrots, olives, tomatoes and cornichons, had a great light vinegary dressing that was missing on the evening mesculan salad. The dish was another winner and light enough to leave room for the next course, a Uruguayan sandwich called a Chivito. This hearty sandwich came with a choice of either beef or chicken, fried egg, black forest ham, bacon, provolone, lettuce, tomato and mayo on rosemary foccaccia. While chock full of heart stopping ingredients, it was surprisingly light, and the warm rosemary foccaccia made comforting bookends to the rich ingredients within. The egg was cooked perfectly with the yolk threatening to ooze out, and the bacon had nice deep dark pink color. Lastly we tried The Rabbit, a wonderfully simple sandwich of grilled eggplant, peppers, onions, asparagus and fresh mozzarella on that great toasted foccaccia. Again…a winner.
I ordered a Cuban sandwich to-go for my husband (rosemary foccaccia held together roast pork, ham, mayo, mustard and crunchy pickles). I’m pleased to report, after reheating it on my pizza stone at home, the sandwich held up well and was devoured by the hubby who did save me a small quarter of the sandwich. Fair enough.
I'd come this far, so working backwards, Benjamin Button Style, I took my mother-in-law and 5 children (not all mine) for breakfast. We tucked ourselves into the colorful lounge area at the front of the café. Four of the kids ordered hot cocoa piled high with whipped cream. The fifth child scowled as he looked at the glass of ‘pulp’ he had ordered (fresh squeezed o.j.). Luckily a plate of Maplewood Smoked Bacon provided a tasty distraction. All agreed it was the "best bacon ever." Crisp, smoky, cooked to perfection. Next came the French Toast, warm rectangular brioche, dusted with powdered sugar enhanced by warm maple syrup. The Breakfast Burrito was a classic tortilla filled with scrambled egg, goat and cheddar cheese, ham, tomato and onion with salsa served on the side. The ingredients all worked nicely together with the salsa providing an extra kick and nuance. After much deliberation, I ordered the Olive Market Egg Basket, a crisp cup of ham cradles a poached egg, bacon and melted cheddar cheese. It included sides of the same salsa that came with the burrito and a wonderful hollandaise sauce. Like a music conductor, the chef was able to make all these ingredients work together harmoniously. The main event was the hollandaise which was zesty and zippy, the kind of zzzzz’s you catch to wake you up. I was lucky to get a few bites in between smacking away greedy forks attempting to hijack my food.
Despite just downing pancakes, french toast, whipped cream and hot cocoa, I sprung for two more orders of Churros for the kids to enjoy. To quote my new favorite phrase, this isn’t a dress rehearsal.
I would be remiss if I didn’t stress just how well stocked The Olive Home Store is with beautiful gifts, house wares, olives oils, truffle oils, balsamic vinegars, jams, honeys, seasoned salts and more. It was an impressive selection and I would high tail it back just for the store alone.
Despite the bumpy start, my collective experiences at The Olive Market were wonderful. The atmosphere, the high-quality ingredients, the thoughtfully prepared food (tapas aside), the well-stocked goods, made for an experience worth shouting to the world (or at least the readers of CT BITES). I’ll be back.
Open Tuesday through Sunday. Tapas evenings, Thursday-Sunday. Breakfast $7 -$12; Lunch $5-$16, dinner $7-$30. The Olive Market, 19 Main Street Redding. (203) 544-8134.
Note: The Olive Market is also available for catering.
The Olive Market 19 Main Street Redding. 203.544.8134