- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

It is tough to see why anyone would take a business associate to Olives restaurant, aside for convenience and change.
An offspring of the Boston restaurant owned by famed chef Todd English, Olives' atmosphere and menu is far more suited for a romantic dinner on the weekend. Both the decor and food are a demonsration of fusion; this time it's a blend of New England and Italian. One wonders if its easy to close a deal or negotiate a salary increase while looking over a menu where only half of each dish contains familiar ingredients. Spinach bechamel? Roquefort polenta? Sounds sexy, but not at lunchtime, and not for $25 and up.
Olives is located in the World Center building at 1600 K. St. NW, so it's easy find and a good spot for downtown workers who aren't inclined to make a trek. My business associate and I made a reservation for 12:15 p.m., but judging by the empty tables throughout the restaurant, it was an unnecessary move.
We were seated in the downstairs dining room, which proved to be just a hair underlit. A few watts more of light would give accent to the flowing brown cloth that was draped from the ceiling and walls. Our hostess placed us in a cramped and uncomfortable corner booth. Anyone needing room to spread out would be wise to ask for a table.
One thing particularly striking about Olives is the noise. An adjacent dining room played host to a festive gathering, and the assault of boisterous laughs, giggles and talking carried over a thin wall to create a less-than-serene dining experience. The stone walls of the dining room did little to deaden the sound.
After scanning the menu, I decided to start with a bowl of traditional New England clam chowder. It was tasty, but I found the potato slivers a tad undercooked, and I was disturbed to find the clams still in their shells. Clams are difficult enough to eat without the need to fish them out of a bowl of broth.
For my entree, I had the pan-seared scallops, enveloped in a parsnip puree-filled tart with cider glaze. It sounded refreshing, but wasn't. I expected a delightful assault of apple taste, but struggled to find a hint of any fruit at all. The scallop aftertaste lingered even after numerous glasses of water.
My colleague began with basic Greek salad and had no complaints. Her entree, a plate of beer-battered sole, was declared to heavy for lunch. Those looking for something not requiring a post-lunch walk might be inclined to order the mustard-crusted tuna on a sweet and sour cucumber salad, or even the veal Marsala. Menu options for the more adventurous diner include wood grilled rack of lamb on carrot-laced couscous or the wild mushroom mezzalunas with a mushroom and mascarpone sauce.
For dessert, try the banana bread pudding, served warm. While some might find it too dense to finish, the taste is worth it. The creamy vanilla flan is also recommended.
Olives should be praised for hiring a knowledgeable and attentive wait staff. Our dishes came promptly and without error.
If you have a free Friday night, a full wallet and an adventurous attitude, Olives isn't a bad spot to dine. But for a typical business lunch, it's much easier to find a quieter, less expensive and more comfortable option anywhere in the District.


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