Delicious details of a south Tampa trattoria
Olivia | 3601 W. Swann Ave., Tampa
Like all of Chris Ponte’s restaurants, beautiful details infuse every aspect of Olivia, his modern trattoria in South Tampa.
The place is bright and airy, filled with natural light. An intimate lounge with small tables is perfect for sharing drinks, and private conversation, while the bar, resplendent in dark woods and a black marble bar top, is the spot for laughter and reconnecting with friends and family.
It’s also the spot to try a little cicchetti (small plates) and one of Olivia’s signature cocktails, like the Apulia. It’s a refreshing twist on the classic margarita, made with Corazon Reposado, Orange Shrub, aperol and agave. Black lava sea salt rims the glass, and the drink resembles a bright orange sunset on a black-sand beach.
For a more traditional cocktail, the O-Fashioned is a delightful spin on the old-fashioned. Olivia’s version is crafted with Redemption rye, Foro Amaro, nocello and Faretti’s biscotti liqueur. It’s smooth, and a little sweet, balancing chocolate, walnut and biscotti flavors, tamped down by the rye and Amaro. Enjoy this before, or after dinner or both. I especially loved the “O” stamped into the large single ice cube. It’s just one of many charming details experienced during an evening at Olivia.
The selection of antipasto, and insalata, includes a constellation of favorites like caprese, charcuterie, calamari and meatballs. On this section of the menu, the wahoo crudo is the shining star. Chef Cristian Ruiz uses the white plate as a blank canvas and creates a stunning presentation. Colors from orange, Fresno chilis, radish, microgreens and edible flowers scattered across the plate among dots of sweet soy sauce. You might think it is too beautiful to eat. Resist that thought because it’s also delicious, and light with a perfect marriage of flavors from the fish, citrus, Calabrian aioli and sushi sauce. This dish, a little burrata and a bottle of prosecco are all you need for a light dinner on a casual Sunday night.
Five variations of housemade pasta are offered at Olivia, ranging from a simple and comforting cacio e pepe to complex flavor profiles like the squid ink casarecce. The casarecce is pure pleasure, like a big family celebration, with lots of relatives contributing flavors and spice. Drama comes from the color of the pasta, black from infused squid ink. It’s tossed into a lobster brodo, along with Key West shrimp, Fresno chili, garlic chips and soppressata, garnished with ribbons of green scallion. Big flavors, warm spice and tender shrimp create a unique and memorable dish.
Silky smooth, hazelnut-artichoke hummus, paired with fregula, is the base for branzino, a mild-tasting Mediterranean fish. Crispy skin adds to the texture profile of creamy hummus and chewy pasta. The flavors are mild, slightly sweet, from the roasted tomatoes and have a sparkle of spice from the chili oil. The short rib, as expected, shreds apart with the touch of a fork and is served over gorgonzola polenta. It’s rich and comforting, enveloped by a Barolo wine sauce and served with broccolini.
Olivia pastry chef Vincent Hermogino has re-created simple Italian classics, each with a pop of innovation, to delight diners. For instance, the tiramisu is classic in every way except for a cocoa nib tuile hidden just below the surface and concealed with a dusting of cocoa powder. The sound of the spoon hitting the tuile reminds some of the crack heard when breaking into crème brulee, and the crisp texture adds life to each spoonful. The apple butter torta is a perfectly delicious apple cake, crowned with a scoop of vanilla bean gelato. The smear of brown butter caramel studded with walnuts pulls this dessert in a new direction. The flavor is intensely deep, requiring the sugar to boil down to a very dark color before it’s lightened with cream and brown butter. It’s an adult version of caramel, dark and smoky, that balances the gelato and keeps the sweetness in check.
Olivia is a wonderful neighborhood restaurant in South Tampa. It’s perfect for casual drinks and lively chatter with friends, yet intimate enough for private conversations and classic cocktails. Laugh with your family while sampling pizzas, and plates of pasta, or share dinner for two over innovative Italian cuisine that excites your tongue and satisfies your soul. There is something for everyone there, where life’s rich tapestry is woven among good food, inspired cocktails and beautiful details. ♦