Date Night: Olio Ole
I had been meaning to do this but things have been hectic here. Work, responsibilities, and worries weighted heavily on us but we always made sure there was “us” time. It was just a little few and far between. After six weeks, the pace has slowed and stabilized, for the most part. So when Rafa asked if I wanted to go out for drinks and dinner, I was giddy…and I wanted to do my first restaurant review…and it was high time I got to wear something other than flip-flops.
Barrio Escalante is a little neighborhood with a cluster of curious bar/restaurants. I say curious because Costa Rica doesn’t have the service industry mindset like stateside nor do they like the uniqueness of a good drinking establishment. People will readily cluster in Subway or Pizza Hut (which has beer on tap), than the neighboring watering hole. Granted I have only been in a few places for a beer, but for the most part they are rather cookie cutter and play crappy american music. In our first week here, Rafa took me to Olio for lunch and I was happy when he suggested it for date night.
Olio is a great century old brick one story nestled on the commuter train tracks. Seriously, if you stumble out of this place at the wrong time, you’re toast. I wonder why there are not deaths weekly, if not nightly here because if it ran as close to the places I use to frequent, there would be a blood bath. There are no warning lights or sirens, just a slight rumbling which could easily be mistaken for the numerous earthquakes…or your state of drunkenness.
The decor is not the usual thrown together mishmash of what Ticos think with draw customers. The place is actually cozy, well-lit and comfortable. I have seen it listed as a pub but I am a pub expert and this is more of just a nice bar/restaurant. Here’s the kicker: the service is good. A little back ground…90% of the restaurants in CR could care less about you. I know that sounds a tad harsh, but people don’t put any effort into to good service. And I am being nice! Rafa seethes at the service and has been known to hunt down the owners of places and chew them out. It’s really not that hard: water, napkins, appropriate music, a frigging smile. So when we get good service, we notice and we tip good. And is a country where tips are included in the final bill.
Rafa says Olio has been around for over ten years. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes about the place. I’ve been here for only a few weeks and have seen restaurants open and shut down. Since it’s in a neighborhood and not around the main drags, you get a nice clientele of students, professionals, and *sigh* expats. This night was no exception and we walked in to see a table of drunk older american women, jostling and joking among empty pitchers of sangria. On the other side of us was a table of local art students in the latest Costa Rican boho chic (aka “what I looked like in the 80s”), with the guy sporting a spectacular mullet. I dare say, I was feeling a bit homesick.
The menus here are voluminous and this one is no exception with eight pages of items. Specialization is not big here. Olio has been listed as mediterranean/Costa Rican fusion (wtf…because they have olives?) but they do have fine pasta dishes AND (the real reason I was so excited to go there) fresh mushrooms. Fungi are not a big cooking draw down here. Auto Mercado will have your basic white mushrooms for an astounding $6-8 a package (not pound). And trust me, they don’t look good either. I don’t know where Olio gets them (because I have looked) but they are fresh, flavorful and possibly hallucinogenic because the meal was rapturous…or maybe it was the wine…either way, it was good.