Wild Olive Cucina Italiana
I have been meaning to get over to Wild Olive ever since my impromptu move to the Charleston area. Living only a matter of minutes away, should have brought me to this John’s Island hotspot long before now. The time had come though. And so had the rain. Watching kayakers floating down King Street and in the Marketplace, I almost decided to forego the drive. After being housebound for the day, my cabin fever outweighed my trepidation. Fortunately the drive was damp, but not dangerous and the parking lot at Wild Olive was a large puddle, not a lake. By the time I made it to the welcoming flower cart outside the entrance, I was happy that I had made the effort.
In order to take in the entire experience, my friend and I decided to arrive 30 minutes prior to our reservation and cocktail at the restaurant’s bar. The hostess obliged, guiding us in the right direction. Our bartender introduced himself as Frank and handed us drink menus. While we debated our drink selections, Frank began a sly seduction of wit and bar wisdom hoping to convince us to dine with him. We, however, were determined to stick to our plan. An extra dirty Grey Goose martini and a signature Italian martini almost convinced us to stay. We’ll be back Frank.
Once we arrived at our table we were pleasantly surprised with a $19 bottle list that offered some beautiful selections. We perused the dinner menu and formulated our tasting menu for the evening. We opted to start the meal with a couple of Caesar salads with a mix of romaine, escarole and radicchio, pangrattato (translates to breadcrumbs), white anchovy, and grilled grana padano (a grainy, hard cow’s milk cheese) along with a bottle of the Santa Martina 2009 Vintage Toscana Rosso. The addition of escarole and radicchio lent an unexpected depth of flavor to the salad. The nuance of smoke from the grilled grana padano reinvented the traditional concept of “Caesar”.
We then moved onto an appetizer of “Suppli al telefono” risotto fritters stuffed with sausage, spinach, parmesan, mozzarella. Suppli al telefono in Italian translates to “on the phone” and also appropriately describes the delicate, hand made fresh mozzarella that oozed out of the fritter and stretched much like a telephone chord when biting into it. The fattiness of the sausage and the saltiness of the parmesan paired with the golden crispness of the fried risotto proved to be the most memorable morsel of the night. If there had been another three orders on the table we would have finished them all.
Next, we moved onto the Salumi - a board of lush, house cured meats. The wooden board displayed offerings such as Lomo, an air-cured ham, Bresaola, a piquant, yet sweet air-dried salted beef, and a briny Duck Prosciutto. Hand stretched mozzarella lined one corner of the board lending a graceful note to the more robust flavors of the proteins. Accompanying and providing the perfect foil to the intensity of this offering was a creamy chicken liver rustica and a spicy capponata.
By time the charcuterie board arrived, we realized how perfectly the wine we selected was complimenting our choices. The Santa Martina is a “baby” Super Tuscan, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Although the ripe cherry notes were bold, the fruit was balanced by the vibrant acidity and tannins. The earthy spice of the Syrah was a surprising nuance. Our wine was undaunted by the cured meats and we knew that it would be perfect with the course to come. So perfect, in fact, that we ordered another bottle.
As if the above selections hadn’t filled us enough, we overindulgently prepared ourselves for the main course. The kitchen was kind enough to split the entree portion for us rather than wheeling us out post meal. Our server presents us with two, of what he called “small portions” of their signature baked lasagna made with lamb sausage, goat cheese, and an earthy tomato and mushroom sauce. The dish wrapped around our palates like a taste of fine wine, the flavors harmoniously blending into a single note of almost perfect. Though the textures and flavors were there, there was a slight lack of seasoning that would have rendered the dish more complete. Though the lasagna was not our favorite dish, the wild success of all the others were more then enough reason to return. (There had been plans for dessert, however that was a physiologically impossibility).
Dining at Wild Olive is more than just the fabulous food. It is the relaxed feeling of the experience-as if you were sitting in an old friend’s dining room-that makes you know that your first time there will not be your last. We loved the community table in the bar area with its canopy of grapes that inspired a fantasy of eating al fresco in a Tuscan vineyard. Well, that was my fantasy anyway. I was so enamored of the place that I returned a few days later with my parents who were visiting Charleston. If you are looking for a wonderful restaurant to entertain at during the holiday season or even the perfect stocking stuffer (gift certificate), don’t overlook the delicious charms of Wild Olive.