Elegance and hospitality in Norwood
After years of having visited Norwood’s commercial Route 1 strip, what a surprise it was to discover Olivadi in the quiet town center.
The ample size of the venue and its extensive woodwork, windows, deck, private rooms, and built-in cabinetry (for holding cutlery and wine) convey a sense of comfort and ease. So, too, did the presence of the owner, Anthony Delapa, who greeted guests on both of my recent visits and, on one occasion, hosted a large party of diners himself as though the restaurant was his home and hospitality a matter of personal pride.
Olivadi has been through a couple of chefs since it opened two years ago and seems to have settled into a good groove in March with the arrival of Chef William Lopez, formerly of Newton’s Tartufo.
His vegetable minestrone ($6 dinner; $5 lunch) is a nice way to start. It’s a light, brothy rendition served in a pleasing square white bowl, atop a wooden tray, with pouty edges that beg to be sipped from.
It was served with a bread basket that held an assortment: inch-square hunks of foccacia; paper-thin, toasted shards with baked-on cheese; plain slices of an Italian boule. Along with the bread comes a small plate of a mild basil puree with a dollop of punchy tapenade at its center.
Thin slices of breaded eggplant, rolled and stuffed with a mild ricotta-spinach mixture, come two to an order of the eggplant involtini appetizer ($6 lunch). This is essentially eggplant parmesan at its delicate best. The simple marinara it comes with has a lovely texture and balanced blend of acid and sweet flavors.
In fact, it’s the sauce we would have liked to have had on Anthony’s Special Pasta ($15) — a homemade rigatoni with a “spicy Calabrese tomato sauce’’ that was unappealingly thick and flat-tasting. The sauce may be a fond taste acquired in childhood, but misses entirely.
Still, there’s much to choose from here. The couple next to us at dinner raved about their pork tenderloin ($23) and chicken piccata ($18), and the acoustics are so good in the spacious dining room, I could hear them at a short distance.
The sauce on the linguini that comes with a special haddock, clams, and mussels dish ($25) is yet another red sauce, with a bit of cream in it. It coats the pasta sparingly and is delicious. So, too, is the filet of haddock and the three small clams and six tiny mussels in their shells that fan out around the plate.
Servers follow pasta dishes to their guests and grate fresh parmesan in a snowy sprinkle: “Tell me when,’’ they say, and we’re embarrassed by how long we let them grate.
There’s something about the flavor of a dish called Nonna’s Roast Chicken ($17) that rattles an old memory: Perhaps it is Delapa’s grandmother’s recipe and close to something one of my aunts cooked. (The town of Olivadi, where Delapa was born, is only a few miles from the southern Italian Calabrian village where my grandparents grew up.) It is two bone-in pieces covered in crispy skin that seem to have been doused with a very lemony sauce. It is actually sour, but good. Although the menu says the dish comes with carrots, onions, and mushrooms, mine had summer squash, zucchini, and good roasted potatoes.
The shrimp scampi over spaghettini ($16 dinner; $10 lunch) at lunch is a simple plate of spaghetti with a butter, lemon, and garlic sauce that never goes wrong when it’s done well, as it is here.
Just fine, too, is the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($11/$20 dinner; $12 lunch) — the pasta cooked just right and the meaty sauce a touch sweet, as it wants to be.
The thin, sour cream (crème fraiche?) and dill sauce that sides the Pistachio and Horseradish Crusted Salmon ($19 dinner; $13 lunch) is a smart reminder of that classic pairing.
The lunch version of the dish came with a mass of great roasted, sliced beets and a small mesclun salad. And the lunch menu’s Tuscan Chicken Salad ($9 lunch) consists of flavorful mouthfuls of herbed, grilled chicken breast, fresh spinach, goat cheese, sliced red grapes, and candied walnuts.
Both desserts we had at Olivadi were gorgeous. The panna cotta ($7) is a silky smooth, molded pudding akin to a crème brulee but made lighter, with gelatin rather than egg yokes. Perfect, too, was the tortino ($7): two small cupcake-sized, moist, dark chocolate cakes served with fresh, homemade whipped cream.