2017-06-14 / Restaurant of the Week


There’s always something new, different, and delicious at El Olivo, one of Astoria’s venerable restaurants, established 22 years ago. Founded by Riccardo Aguayo, El Olivo is as consistently delicious today as it was when I wrote my first review there 19 years ago! Today, his lovely daughter Talia runs this popular spot, and son Riccardo helps out too. Thankfully, you’ll still find Riccardo Sr. here, mixing up incredibly tasty cocktails and sangria at the bar, with windows that open up onto 31st Street.

You will be warmly welcomed at El Olivo and ushered into the hospitable, peaceful dining room outfitted with warm, espresso-colored banquettes that you’ll sink into. Soft lights and soft music offering the likes of Sinatra fill the air, while families come together to enjoy a meal. Riccardo mixed up his yet-unnamed summer time cocktail of cucumber, fruit juice and vodka, which puts the “happy” in Happy Hour. There’s a quiet bar where you can meet friends after work for an El Olivo daiquiri with real fruit, a mojito with fresh lime and mint, or his new pineapple mango sangria, to compete with the classic red and white sangrias. All are stocked with finely diced fruit and are served by the glass or pitcher, but you’ll want a pitcher!

El Olivo offers two pages worth of mouthwatering tapas, to eat at the bar or at your table as a first course. In fact, they’re so good that many of the regulars order a variety of tapas as their dinner, which is the best way to sample this fine Spanish cuisine. We started with mini spicy chorizo sausages, which were grilled until the skin was crisp and the inside was hot and juicy, and not very spicy. Regular chorizo are available too, as well as plates of cured jamon Serrano, fine Spanish ham similar to prosciutto but different in texture. Next, we tried the camarones al Pil Pil, which are juicy shrimp with finely chopped garlic, olive oil and red pepper whose sauce you must soak up with the warm bread brought to your table. Another new item on the menu is garbanzo beans with fresh spinach, sautéed with garlic and white wine, served in a pretty mound on the plate. Fresh mussels and clams are always on the menu, sautéed, baked, or swimming in heavenly sauce. After 19 years I still can’t resist their pulpo alla Gallega, tender octopus stewed with smoky pimento ($14). All tapas are generously sized for sharing and enjoying.

Each month, a special Tapa is featured so hurry up and take advantage of the freshest scallops you’ll ever have. I was accompanied outside to the truck where a fisherman brought a bushel of scallops just caught that morning. We ate some raw, on the street, they were so fresh. Inside the kitchen, these meaty scallops were prepared three different ways: simply grilled until sweet and caramelized, sautéed in a white wine and lemon sauce, and our favorite; creamy saffron sauce. Another monthly special is flash fried whiting fish, served whole, crispy and delicious. They’re so fresh and tender, you just cut a piece and eat everything; bones, flaky flesh and crispy coating. Dip each piece into the spicy chipotle mayo and you’ll be in heaven. You can even slurp a bowl of homemade Galician soup with collard greens, chorizo, and white beans as a starter.

You’ll have to stop ordering tapas if you want to try some of their classic entrées, or you’ll just have to come back again. There are so many choices including fresh fish and lobster, meat, chicken and rice dishes. Perhaps the most famous dish of Spain is Paella, and El Olivo’s Paella Valenciana combines chicken, sausage and mixed seafood with lots of saffron infused rice and peas for a savory, satisfying meal that’s meant to be shared ($32 for two). Paella Marinera is a seafood feast that combines shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, and half a lobster all nestled into that delectable rice. Go for freshly caught red snapper fillet sautéed in parsley, onion, and garlic sauce, or with zesty capers and lemon. Each dish comes with their famous Spanish fried potatoes, which resemble homemade potato chips. Be warned… these chips are addictive! Filet of sole and salmon are prepared as you like, broiled or sautéed, with several options on the menu. If you crave meat, enjoy some tender filet mignon with mushroom sauce, broiled shell steak, or Veal stuffed with mild cheese, sautéed in wine sauce.

It might seem impossible, but please save room for dessert, at least to share. The crème brulee cheesecake is cool and creamy while the chocolate mousse cake and Mississippi ice cream cake beg for forgiveness. Light, citrusy key lime pie or a bowl of ice cream cleanse and refresh your palate after this fantastic meal. The secret to a restaurant’s success is consistency, and this writer can say first-hand that since my first visit in 1998, the food at El Olivo has remained remarkably, consistently delicious and of the highest quality. Visit now while the scallops and whiting are jumping out of the sea and onto your plate. Buen provecho!

21-15 31st Street
Astoria  718.932.4040

Email: elolivoastoria@gmail.com

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