The question is not how Olivella's does the simple Italian thing so well, but why more restaurants don't. Is it so difficult, really, to buy fresh, healthy ingredients, and then to keep the food simple enough to let their flavors come through? Apparently so, or more places would do it.
Olivella's is tucked behind the row of shops that line Hillcrest Avenue across from SMU. There's a narrow swath of patio with tiny tables and wrought-iron chairs, but 8 p.m. was still too hot for comfort, so we opted instead for a little spot by the window, just behind the big, wooden community table that takes up most of the room.
Simplicity seems to be the guiding ideal behind Olivella's, from the décor to the menu and wine list. The house merlot ($5) was nothing special, but the sangria was inventive--more like chilled mulled wine spiced with cloves and cinnamon than the overly sweet fruit-cup many places serve. (It's worth noting that there's a happy hour steal here: Pitchers of sangria, usually $25, are only $8 from 2-5 p.m. on weekdays...if you can sneak away at 2 p.m.) The vegetarian options at Olivella's are ample. And while eating vegan's a bit harder, the pizza crust is egg- and dairy-free (most of the menu is mostly pizza, with a few sandwiches, salads and pastas), as is the sauce.
We started with house salads and foccacia, which comes on an expansive plate. The bread was thin but pliable, lightly sprinkled with olive oil, oregano and minced garlic. The salads were equally pure and simple: mixed greens with balsamic vinegar, maybe a splash of oil, salt, pepper, and a few sliced grape tomatoes. Granted, this would be very easy to make at home, and probably a lot cheaper than $6 (though it's a sizable portion). And if I were one of those salad eaters who didn't actually like salad--I know they exist; I've seen them at Golden Corral (don't ask what I was doing at Golden Corral), soaking their iceberg lettuce in Ranch and bacon bits--I wouldn't have been happy. But as the prelude to a summer meal, this most basic and palate-cleansing of salads was nice.
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Pizzas at Olivella's come in two sizes, regular and "metro." The latter's about as long as a tiger's tail, and ovoid--but it's not hard to eat a lot of pizza here. The crust is very thin but still airy, with just a hint of crunch, and the sauce--the creation, it seems, of a true minimalist--evokes summer's sweetest fresh tomatoes. We ordered the Rossa (cheeseless) pizza, which promised tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, basil and capers, and we added mushrooms and artichoke hearts--which was a good move, since the pizza, which didn't actually have fresh basil, would have been almost naked without them. Still, the capers were a nice, salty complement to the sweet sauce, and all of the ingredients were fresh (except, of course, the nonexistent basil).
Still, absent basil notwithstanding, it was a good summer dinner--light, fresh, and about as healthy as bread and oil can get. The service was friendly, helpful, and amenable to answering all manner of ingredient-related questions; the atmosphere relaxed and quiet--though by the end of our meal, the little shop was surprisingly busy for a late weeknight.
Sure, it's no Spiral Diner, but Olivella's is a lovely choice for the vegan who's tired of trying to convince his or her friends that they'll love the tofu scramble.
3406 McFarlin Blvd. (at Hillcrest)