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[Photos: Garrett Ziegler]

All day we had been craving creaminess, so we eagerly ordered the trio of dips ($14) at Olea. Oozy and unctuous, these three spreads were even more satisfying in corporeal form than in our imaginings. Usually it's the opposite: the experience almost never lives up to the dream. Something about this Brooklyn restaurant makes fantasies become real. You know that life isn't actually as great as it is here, yet, for a few moments, great it is.

For us, this effect started with the dips. The spicy feta, the color of an aging hardcover book, could have used more heat and more feta; it resembled hummus too much in looks and taste. The brick red of the romesco testified to its heavy base of red peppers mixed with almonds and oil, for a sweet, easy finish. The green pea, with its powerful squirts of lemon and shreds of Parmesan, smoothed over any problems. That's food worth dreaming about.

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Olea rightly calls itself a taverna. White-washed walls, turquoise trim, and seahorse motifs evoke Greece, while the embroidered pillows, metalwork, and colorful inlaid tiles around the bar say Turkey. In the evening, with candlelight gleaming along the broad-beamed ceiling, the restaurant is just plain handsome. Like the decor, dishes are mix-and-match Mediterranean.

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Entrees, such as the grilled ribeye steak ($25), arrive on huge plates. However, as if to emphasize the joy of sharing, these behemoths are also available in an appetizer size. In total, we split five tapas, none as mind-bogglingly good as the green pea dip, though all some degree of pleasant. The fried chickpeas ($3.50) had been tossed with Spanish paprika, producing a meaty heat. Beer and soda makers could up their sales by attaching little packets of these savories to their bottles.

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Least successful were the chicken empanadillas ($7.50). Although each had a ridge of precisely folded pastry, the insides were dry and pungent, with an echo, somehow, of whitefish. The avocado-esque sauce helped but didn't hide the dismaying flavor. Pass. Better was the sangria-marinated hanger steak ($10). Pickled onions picked up what remained of the alcohol's sugariness, and the portion was generous. If we'd had any of the freshly made semolina bread or spreads left, we might have made a very smart sandwich.

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Falafel-crusted artichoke hearts ($7) came with a Turkish eggplant salad, a chutney-like concoction of tomatoes, peppers, and, of course, eggplant. Everything got a swirl of tahini-yogurt sauce. Slivers of the hearts were nestled within a mass of moist, mashed garbanzos, almost a croquette.

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Although Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays offer specials and live music, Sunday night had its own pageant. We drank mango-white sangria ($8) and watched. Four elderly folks celebrated the start of a new week.
20110511-Olea-sangria.jpg A young woman sipped white wine while taking her toddler on a tour of the wide-tiled brown floor. Holding hands, a couple in color-coordinated cardigans waited for a table to open up outside. At the bar, a man highlighting a Richard Rorty book with two different pens struck up a conversation with a guy reading Gilles Deleuze. We could have been on a photo shoot for a Fort Greene-based real estate office.

Plenty of people know about this restaurant, located on a leafy street a few blocks away from busy Fulton and DeKalb. Nevertheless, the other diners heightened, rather than detracted from, our sense of cozy comfort. With its sunny disposition and easy-to-like cooking, Olea is best for: a relaxing, tranquil date.

Olea

171 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map)
718-643-7003
oleabrooklyn.com


About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.

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