5 Things to Know About Olive & Finch, Open TomorrowBy Ruth Tobias | December 5, 2013 By Ruth Tobias | December 5, 2013
“My husband is European; his father lives off the grid in the Alps. His house has no propane, so when we visit him, we go to the salon de thé or the traiteur [essentially a deli]. It’s not like going to Safeway - you get a home-cooked meal.” Thus was the inspiration for chef Mary Nguyen’s new cafe, bakery and market a half-block away from her modern Vietnamese flagship, Parallel Seventeen, in Uptown (she also owns Street Kitchen Asian Bistro in Englewood). It’s an adorable little place decorated with antique birdcages and mirrors from France, teapot displays and fresh flowers on the sassafras-wood community table. But it houses a deceptively ambitious kitchen.
Even to put a label on Olive & Finch, whose doors will open from 7 AM to 10 PM starting Friday, seems to miss the point somewhat. After all, says Nguyen, “At my other restaurants, I’m compartmentalized; I can’t just serve bison-chipotle meatloaf because it sounds good to me. Here I have a lot of freedom to make whatever I’m in the mood for - it’s my playground.”
You want salads and soups? Coming right up. About a dozen salads, in fact, will line the deli case at the entrance, from fennel and grapefruit to rotini with pesto and peas to tuna with sundried tomatoes, capers and olives. Four more are on the regular menu, including the citrusy quinoa with goat cheese, dried cranberries, honey-roasted carrots, slivered almonds and arugula. And two soups will rotate weekly, starting with chicken-tortilla and roast tomato.
You’ll have some 14 sandwiches to choose from - and they're a mouthful. Among our favorites are the already buzzed-about, and absolutely melt-in-your-mouth, signature Greggers: braised beef tongue on a baguette with caramelized onions, garlic purée and tarragon aïoli. The meat is shaved ultra-thin because “when the pieces are thick, they look like tongue. I want to introduce people to a cut that’s as amazing as any filet,” says Nguyen. And the Jamal - blackened tilapia with Swiss cheese, coleslaw, avocado, capers and citrus tartar sauce that soaks just so into the ciabatta: “When I was a kid, it was a treat to go to McDonald’s - and to this day I have fond memories of the Filet o’ Fish.” And two egg sandwiches, made for breakfast but available all day, that we couldn’t resist reheating for dinner: the City French starring Black Forest ham, brie and red-pepper aïoli on a croissant, and the open-faced Sunrise, which eats more like a Benedict with Swiss, bacon, roasted tomatoes, arugula and luscious maple aïoli.
Pastries and bonbons of all kinds are piled high. We’re talking quiche Lorraine popovers, Congo bars and fresh-fruit tarts like pear frangipane, pictured below with a slice of good old chocolate cake. (Every day there will be two cakes on offer, including a gluten-free option.) In the background is the dulce de leche cookie known throughout South America as an alfajor, made with a recipe handed down from a Colombian friend’s family.
You can wash it all down with a a jolt of java. Or fresh juice blends. Or booze. The Strada coffee machine practically has racing stripes for pulling mean macchiatos and such with your choice of milk - including goat - and/or housemade syrup. (Corvus provides the drip roast, “but we’ll rotate espresso from Boxcar in Boulder, Handsome Boy in Los Angeles, maybe Blue Bottle in San Francisco.) There’s beer, wine and a mimosa made with lip-smackingly tart blueberry-infused lemonade (also pictured below right, next to the grapefruit version). And as for the four signature juices, Nguyen notes: “I’ve been an avid juicer for 20 years - bought that first one from late-night TV, as big as a microwave. Now it’s a fad, but people don’t really understand the health benefits.” Hence the menu's detailed alphabetical key to their nutritional properties.
Takeout’s a given - and a luxury. Lined with outlets as well as picture windows, Olive & Finch's dining room is tailor-made for laptop loungers and people watchers. But Nguyen expects to-go orders to represent fully 50% of her business; to that end, she negotiated with the city to establish a loading zone right out front. As she jokes, “I didn’t even realize the sign had gone up until I got a parking ticket - which for once I was happy about!”
1552 E. 17th Ave.; 303-832-8663