Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

T. Maccarone’s new Olive Marketplace and Café taps into excitement, experiments with café/marketplace hybrid

Olive Marketplace & Café by T. Maccarone’s – 1 star out of 4 (good)

There are many places in town that couple a relaxing atmosphere with café/restaurant menu, but there are few that offer the added incentive of purchasing high quality meats and other goods for home cooking. Developing this unconventional atmospheric mixture of restaurant-goers and home cooks is one of the several ways in which Tom Maccarone and Chef Jake Crenshaw hope to find a niche in the often-redundant Walla Walla restaurant market.

Dare I say that, so far, they haven’t found that mixture; rather, they have tapped into the excitement of the rebranding of a Main Street lunch fixture. Monday, Feb. 8, marked the opening of Olive Marketplace and Café after Maccarone and Crenshaw purchased Merchants Ltd. A French-oriented eatery established in 1976, Merchants Ltd. was famous for its large, yet carefully crafted baguette sandwiches and its green- and red-striped awning, from the Austin family.

The changes the new owners have ushered have more to do with the menu than with the locale’s aesthetics or ambiance. Schematic and more rigid than it should be, the menu features several T. Maccarone’s favorites as well as new offerings that run the gamut from a fresh fruit bowl ($4) for breakfast to clam pizza ($12) for dinner. The house favorite, and an item that has raised the eyebrows of many Wallawallians, is Olive’s lunchtime falafel ($9).

Unfortunately, that hot item was exhausted by the time I stopped in for lunch. My partner and I, instead, opted for items that would reveal the restaurant’s culinary identity: a slow roasted pork sandwich ($10) which came with a lentil pancetta soup and vegetarian lasagna ($12). The main floor of this café-restaurant hybrid was bustling with lunchtime soccer-mom parties of four or five, making the slightly revamped and elevated first-floor seating area uninhabitable for those seeking tranquility.

The second floor was more inviting, featuring an array of black leather couches and shards of modern artwork. These soothing features, however, were juxtaposed with some uninspired plastic chairs that were, perhaps, more suitable for a front lawn: a minor mishap that will likely be corrected in the coming months.

The food was carefully executed, resulting in several strong, gripping flavors carrying each dish. The lentil pancetta soup, served with large, crisp cracker, provided a savory introduction to the sweet mustard marinated pork sandwich. Rich spices, sliced carrots and diced celery gently enhanced the rich flavor of the juicy pancetta chunks. Balanced and precise, the soup was memorable.

The pork sandwich approximated a cloying no man’s land, but its sweetness was gently offset by the wonderfully caramelized balsamic charred onions and melted fontina cheese that held the bread in place. The pork, noticeably, was cooked just enough to accent its succulent flavors, but could have done with less sweet mustard saturation.

My partner’s vegetarian lasagna was also good, but overpowered by tense taste dichotomy between the marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese. Thoughtfully conceived, the lasagna included innovative vegetarian ingredients: Some roasted zucchini and eggplant were laced between the pasta and a large layer of Portobello mushrooms topped the dish. If Olive will become famous for anything, it will be for its emphasis on savory sauce-like flavors witnessed in the sweet mustard and marinara sauces.

My partner and I returned later that afternoon for a taste of Olive’s dessert offerings. She chose a layered chocolate cake ($7) and I chose a mixed vegetable quiche ($5), both of which demonstrated that this new restaurant has a ways to go to balance their good lunch menu with an unimaginative dessert selection. The layered chocolate cake, while solid in look and taste, was far too conservatively planned and executed. The tastes were good, but did not tempt my palate in any nuanced way.

The mixed vegetable quiche, while interestingly designed, left much to be desired. The gentle crust highlighted a quiche whose internal flavors: which included olive, spinach and squash: were served cold and thereby could not be brought out by the cheese. Moreover, the cheese was somehow not cooked in with the rest of the vegetables and merely occupied the quiche’s top layer.

Your nostalgic yearning for large baguettes may not be satisfied by Maccarone’s new establishment, but this eatery’s penchant for bold, creamy sauce flavors may more than make up for it. That said, it has several missteps it must address before outdoing Walla Walla’s premier lunch eateries and its social experiment (otherwise known as the café-marketplace hybrid) has yet to reveal its success. Nonetheless, Olive has plenty of unrealized potential and is good enough at present to attract even those with the most precise and discriminating tastes.

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