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Oliva

OlivaIn a word: The Near East on the Far West side.

The specs: #0443 
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at 77 Square 1/16/09 and 1/14/09, Decider, Ruppert Food Blog 1/15/09 & 11/4/09, Yelp, official web site, Oliva on Urbanspoon

Latest Oliva news and reviews at del.icio.us

Doug ate the stuffed eggplant.
JM ate the lamb kabob.
John F. ate the lasagna and a couple beers.
John Sams ate the shrimp and artichoke dish.
Nichole ate the shepherd salad.
Ross ate the manicotti with a beer.
Samantha ate the felafel's with soup.
We split the baklava, rice pudding, and tiramisu.
The bill was $130, or $18.67/person, plus tip.
JM and Doug gave Oliva an A-; John Sams, Nichole, and Samantha gave Oliva a B+ (see our grading rubric).

TeaOliva occupies the spot where Grape and Company used to be, and it seems to cater to the slightly upscale Mediterranean food loving public. With Asia Express and Swagat just down the strip mall, this corner of the west side is a bit of a gem.

Dinner for our large group started with baskets of pita (not the flatbread variety, this kind fluffy and toasty outside). It was accompanied by a great housemade garlic and olive tapenade. A decent selection of beers and wine, as well as traditional tea, were available.

Many of us opted for the lentil soup as a starter. Heavily spiced with cumin, and a dollop of spearmint oil on top, the soup had a thick, rich texture. The house salad dressing had a great lemony bite to it.Lentil soup

The biggest hit of the table was probably JM's lamb kabob. The tenderness of the meat really made an impression on JM, as did the sweet and creamy yogurt and fresh grilled vegetables. John's shrimp and artichokes in cream sauce was also memorable and used good ingredients.

Shrimp and artichoke in cream sauce

Samantha's felafel's was excellent, though she appreciates a less homogeneous texture than this one had. Of the Italian-style dishes, Ross's manicotti was standard but used good cheese; likewise the lasagna John F. ordered was stuffed with cheese and melted in the mouth. Doug's stuffed eggplant didn't manage to overcome the vegetable's inherent blandness, but the sauce was still delicious.

Stuffed eggplant

Shepherd saladThe shepherd's salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta cheese was cool and fresh, but suffered from a veritable lake of water at the bottom. The tomatoes were not quite ripe, but the dry feta was tangy and there was plenty of it, and having pitted olives made chewing easier.

BaklavaThe desserts were mostly serviceable treats. The tiramisu disappeared in a flash; the rice pudding was nicely cinnamon-ed. The baklava, sadly, seemed to have gotten soggy from sitting too long.

Oliva's decor reminds one most of a high school cafeteria, but don't let that fool you.  Oliva offers things ranging from decent to downright tasty and a very reasonable price. 

Comments

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Any time I hear or read about this place, it's totally out of my control to do anything but start singing, "Never before has a boy wanted more!"

We wanted to try this place, but likely won't because of the supremely awful service we received from the hostess on the phone.

When we inquired about wait times for a table, she was curt and unpleasant.

Quote: The baklava, sadly, seemed to have gotten soggy from sitting too long.

Do you mean the top part or the bottom part?
Since it is made with honey or syrup I thought the bottom part is always soft and top can be crunch or "damp"???

I've been here twice now, and I can see it joining our "rotation" of places we go to frequently. The chicken kebab, while very basic-sounding, was delicious and perfectly grilled (we liked it better than the lamb). That lentil soup and the warm pita with tapenade are excellent. It's too bad the commenter above had a bad experience on the phone, because I've had good service both times I went (from different servers). The place is small, but one of the waitresses mentioned they are planning to expand. I hope their prices remain affordable.

Ken, if I'm remembering the baklava correctly, it wasn't just "damp" on the bottom. It was soggy and limp through and through without the flaky layers on the top. I wish I could say it didn't affect the flavor, but there was a note of staleness to the piece.

Ok, than yes it was bad, especially since it tasted "old". :-(

The chicken kabob and rice is excellent, as is the olive/garlic tapenade.

From a service perspective, I think they were overwhelmed after getting an initial positive review. It's a small place with not very many tables, so they didn't know how to handle their initial popularity.

It's definitely a place I've been back to multiple times and will continue to go back.

Oh my gosh, everyone here must've had a better experience than myself! This place was the equivalent of Olive Garden with some hummus and falafel thrown in! My friend had the baked ziti and I had the eggplant parmesan--only when it arrived it turned out to be chicken parmesan! The sauce was barely decent and our server forgot our order twice. She had to return to our table to ask us (not writing it down either time). Not a chance will I go back here. The only real positive thing I can say is that it was cheap--well, the olive tapenade was good, served with bread at the beginning of the meal.

Stopped by their new, spacious digs today (they're now next door in the space where Atlanta Bread used to be). It looks great!!

I ordered the appetizer plate for take-out. It was definitely enough food for lunch (and a pretty big lunch, at that...), but the $12.99 price tag seemed a tad high. Everything on the plate was great, though.

I do wish they'd expand the Turkish side of their menu a bit. I *love* Turkish food!! And I'm pretty sure the owners are Turkish...

Went back tonight with my husband and mother-in-law. They both ordered Italian fare; I opted for a Turkish dish. Although I've only been there twice, I'm getting the impression that the Turkish side of the menu is the real star here. The (Turkish) lentil soup we had for starters was fabulous, as was the Turkish bread. The Italian entrees, according to my co-diners, were good but not great. My nohutlu ispanak, on the other hand, was excellent!
Service was a bit slow but friendly - but they've only been in the new place for a week and most certainly have a lot more dine-in patrons now. It may take a few weeks to get the kinks worked out. But I'd go back for sure.

I went there yesterday and I liked it a lot. The service was very solid. Bread and appetizers were great. Tea was good.

I echo the sentiment that the Turkish side of the menu is the star. None of the Italian dishes looked very interesting, but the Turkish stuff was great.

My only criticism is that the wine and beer selection could have been better. I would definitely eat there again.

We went here last weekend for a quartet of birthdays. It was amazing. I was a little afraid after reading these posts, but it seems that the year has been good to them and they have worked out the kinks.

The waitress was prompt but hot hover-y and brought our food in a timely manner. The hummus was AMAZING and I don't think they make a word for the wonderfulness that is the Cigar Borek.

All our entrees were good, but mom's grapeleaf wrapped salmon with sauce was too overwhelming in flavor. I would love to go again just for the apps and to try a pizza.

I'm disappointed they aren't open during the day on the weekend, but I'll take what I can get. They are close to work. I see Cigars in my future.

Without getting into specific dishes, Oliva's is a great addition to Madison's west side. The food is very good as is the atmosphere, and it's not overpriced like a lot of west side restaurants. We had a little trouble with the service the first time we went there for lunch, but were rewarded with free desserts and let me tell you, if you're a fan of carbs for dessert, Oliva's rice pudding may be the best in town. Their other more exciting desserts are also really good.

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