When the Inn at The Black Olive—Stelios Spiliadis's long-awaited Fells Point eco-hotel—finally opened in March, buzz about its über-environmentally friendly construction (so advanced they call it "deep green") and its commodious Greek Agora Gourmet Market pretty much overwhelmed any talk about what sort of restaurant it would boast. That tells you how cutting edge this place is.
Spiliadis is most famous as the owner—with his wife Pauline and son Dimitris—of The Black Olive, the popular, upscale seafood restaurant around the corner from the inn. So you'd think the speculation about their newest dining venue would be high.
But The Olive Room has had one of the quietest openings I've ever witnessed, taking a modest back seat to the building in which it's housed. The restaurant opened in May, but not many people realize it's serving meals to the public. But despite some new-restaurant service and kitchen glitches, The Olive Room is ready for its close-up.
First of all, there's the setting: Perched atop the inn's roof, the restaurant commands a spectacular view of the harbor and its surroundings. A wall of windows opens onto a terrace, where diners can watch the sun go down over Harbor East and Fells Point as they peruse a menu comprised of small plates and entrees of mostly grilled meats and fish, Greek-style, with mainly organic ingredients.
The long, narrow dining room itself is spare and sleek, with a small bar at the entrance and an open kitchen at the far end. Its limestone floors, steel trim, and contemporary art all bespeak an industrial chic.
On our first visit, we were disappointed that there wasn't a table to be had on the terrace, but given that most of the tables inside are placed along the windows, it was just fine. A little less fine was our server that night, who, although sweet and well-meaning, seemed to be at a loss about most aspects of waiting tables and was completely overwhelmed.
But despite this, the food was so lovely that it crowded out any annoyance over the service. A small plate of octopus salad was a model for the way a perfect preparation, combined with exquisitely fresh ingredients, can elevate a simple dish to the sublime—here, grilled, lemon-and-oregano-bathed octopus so silky and tender it nearly melted in my mouth. A little plate of skordalia—that heavenly emulsion of potatoes, garlic, and olive oil—is served like a salad, mounded and surrounded by cucumbers and tomatoes, so thick that a spoon would stand up in it.
Entrees, when at last they arrived, were worth the wait. A plate of grilled scallops came nearly naked, the fresh and sweet gems dressed with only a bit of parsley and wedges of lemon. An imam bayildi, one of two vegetarian entrees on the menu, was a rich and garlicky eggplant casserole.
On our next visit, we managed to nab a table on the terrace, which, at the magic hour on a balmy, breezy evening, is heaven. Our waiter was attentive and efficient, and we quickly settled in with a basket of warm olive bread and dish of marinated olives.
We started with lobster saganaki, which was as decadent as it sounds: big chunks of lobster meat dotting a thick bed of grilled mild Greek cheeses, all to be scooped up with more of that olive bread. Lobster, cheese—what could be better?
Once again, our entrees were slow in coming, but we sipped a novel selection from the restaurant's compact but compelling wine list—a fine Roussanne from the island of Crete—and enjoyed the descending night.
When the entrees arrived, we were thrilled with the juicy, thick-cut slab of grilled boneless pork chop, adorned with nothing but a bit of greenery and a hint of garlic. That wasn't the case with The Olive Room's version of a gyro sandwich. The ingredients—shaved lamb, tzatziki, and homemade pita—were fine (although the lamb was a bit salty), but at $22, it should have been an exemplar of its kind. My huge hunk of perfectly cooked pork was the same price, and my envious dining companion couldn't help but think she had chosen wrong. And I couldn't help but think that, priced six or seven dollars lower, her sandwich would've tasted a lot better.
This time around, though, she could count on dessert as a consolation prize. The selection is a roundup of the usual Greek sweets: baklava, kataifi, honey-sweetened Greek yogurt. But this night, we chose to share an off-the-menu item—a dense square of flourless chocolate-hazelnut cake so rich we could barely finish it (but somehow did).
And as we toddled out into the warm, starry night, we marveled again at the eminently worthy cuisine being served at the low-profile Olive Room; and we hoped that come cold weather, when lounging on the terrace isn't an option, the kitchen and staff will be as efficient as the food is good.