Emek Refaim, the main drag of Jerusalem’s German Colony, is now known as “Restaurant Row.” There are probably more eateries in the street’s 10 or 12 block stretch than anywhere else in the capital. There are cuisines and style for anyone’s palate – dairy or meat, elegant sit-down or fast food, American, Israeli, Oriental or South American.
Despite my being a Jerusalem “foodie” who works a block from Olive, I’d never had a chance to eat there, and so, took advantage of my cousin’s visit from the States and her invitation to treat me to a dinner of my choice. So Olive it was.
Olive can boast one of the most eclectic menus and atmospheric locations on ‘Emek.’ It is housed in one of the few Arab buildings on this historic stretch of 19th century Templer homes, and all parts of its main floor are used – there are 3 main eating sections: Inside, on the porch and on the deck-covered garden. The outside areas are permanently enclosed and made comfortable in both winter and summer. One clear sign of Olive’s popularity was the wide range of ages among its patrons, and the line of people waiting to be seated, something not often seen these days, what with the huge choice of restaurants to choose from.
The menu includes both familiar and more exotic fare. There is a variety of soups and first courses (25-40 NIS), including sautéed mushrooms, chicken skewers and a wonderful antipasti platter that we ordered to share (40 NIS), that includes six different salads and wonderful, warm home-made bread. Most of these were not the usual salads found in typical Middle Eastern restaurants but included delicious versions of grilled sweet potato, steamed artichoke and a fresh carrot salad. The avocado salad, however, was over-salted, at least for my taste.
On this cold January evening we were treated to small glasses of delicious hot apple cider filled with lots of fresh, diced apples that truly hit the spot.
These dark, intimately lit restaurants are always very atmospheric but never lend themselves to easily reviewing the menu, especially for first-timers. I, however, eyed the exotic and colorful-looking dish being served to the table next to us and immediately decided to order that, especially when I saw more of the same being delivered to several other tables.
Turns out that the dish, pineapple-mango chicken breast with coconut milk sauce (78 NIS), is Olive’s signature dish and well worth its popularity. It was both familiar and incredibly exotic, with all flavors – coconut, pineapple and mango – clearly discernible in every bite. Other main dish choices include chicken livers and beef on a bed of Thai noodles, and the more standard steak (85 NIS) and hamburger. There are also several non-meat dishes for the vegetarians among Olive’s guests.
Unfortunately, my tourist cousin was still stuffed from her day of touring which, being Israel, included almost non-stop eating, so she was unable to order a main dish, hence my inability to sample another of the many Olive specialties, such as the “Olive mix” salad of vegetables with strips of chicken and steak.
All mains come with a choice of hot side dish. And while the grilled potatoes I originally order with the chicken were much too spicy for me, the waitress quickly offered to replace them with something else with no fuss – my idea of good service. The rice I got instead, by the way, was perfect.
Although I barely had room for desert, I wanted to sample something, and though the choice was limited, ordered the evening’s special, cherry-pistachio pie. Deserts, however, are evidently clearly not Olive’s forte, though my expectations from the rest of the excellent meal may have made mine a bit higher than normal. The pie was less exotic than it sounded, with virtually no hint of pistachio to be found. And Olive, like so many other kosher meat restaurants, did not provide pareve creamer (or soy milk, so readily available these days) with the coffee for us kosher coffee lovers, which was a bit disappointing.
On the whole, though, I was a sated and happy camper when I left, having enjoyed several different and exotic foods and flavor combinations, with many more intriguing items on the menu for my next visit – which surely will take place sooner than it took me to visit in the first place. I can highly recommend Olive for its wonderful atmospheric and convenient location, wide variety of exotic and intriguing – as well as many familiar – dishes, and happily reasonable prices.