Remember the line in Annie Hall where Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen, tells the joke about two elderly women at a resort in the Catskills? One of them remarks "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." "I know," says the other, "and such small portions." It may be a Mediterranean tapas joint in the East Village rather than a Catskills resort restaurant, but Olivia Bistro is that kind of restaurant: mediocre food, and not nearly enough of it.
A Shrimp Cream Dip ($3.50) had good shrimp flavor but seemed far too rich, loaded with butter that nearly overpowered the shrimp. Tapenade Dip ($3.50), on the other hand, was as abrasively acidic as the shrimp dip was buttery—and the olives, capers and anchovies detonated a salt bomb in the mouth unless applied sparingly. Neither dip had enough toasted bread, and even when we asked for seconds, the ratio of dip to bread was way off. Even the bread wasn't quite right, toasted on top but soggy and soft on the bottom.
Goat Cheese Drops ($6) were balls of mild goat cheese, fried until lightly browned, and topped with a drizzle of honey and served alongside caramelized onions and beets. The cheese drops were good, a bit reminiscent of cheese blintzes, but overall the dish was not memorable.
The dips and cheese drops from the Starters menu were a relatively good value compared with the rest of or meal, ordered from the Tapas menu. Stuffed Calamari ($10) managed to nail tender, well cooked calamari, but the filling of Gruyere, olives, salsa verde, garlic and tomatoes was completely overpowering. Oxtail and Endives ($15) was tender, but it was also bland and greasy, served with an afterthought of baby carrots and what looked like a single cooked leaf of endive. A Combination of Sausages ($15) included skinny, dried-out lamb, veal and chicken sausages.
Unfortunately, all of these plates, though built for sharing, were overpriced and meagerly portioned. We spent $53 on food before tax and tip for the three of us, well over our $15/person target price, and left hungry. As far as cuisines go, Mediterranean can be one of my favorites, and readers of this column will know that I love sharing a number of dishes rather than gambling on one entree for dinner. At Olivia Bistro, however, the menu is too overstuffed, and the kitchen too unfocused, to bring great cuisine to bear. And in a neighborhood with so many great places—the Redhead, Back Forty, and Heartbreak are just three that come to mind out of the dozens—there's no reason to pay too much for food that disappoints.