Oliva: Authentic, rustic Italian fare in the heart of Luweibdeh

Oliva’s menu includes traditional Italian appetizers, salads, pasta, and pizza, with a seasonal focus. (Photos: Oliva’s Facebook account, and Zeid Odeh/Jordan News)
The first raindrops have hit Jordanian soil, signaling the beginning of the winter season. With the change in weather come memories of cold days spent hibernating at home and cravings for hot, carb-heavy foods to fill stomachs and hearts. And there is no better cuisine than Italian to give those cozy, comfort-food vibes.اضافة اعلان

So, under this week’s cloudy Amman skies, I headed to Jabal Luweibdeh to eat at a quaint little Italian restaurant: Oliva. I had heard a lot about this establishment and its authentic atmosphere, and I knew I had to try it out, especially since it has been gaining popularity among Ammanites.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Oliva was the employee diversity; a refreshing sight to see. Advocating for gender equality in the workplace, especially in hospitality, Oliva has established a balanced working environment in both the front of the house and the kitchen.

The restaurant is relatively small, with a limited number of tables in both its indoor and outdoor areas. The décor is simple and rustic, and the sidewalk tables make it feel somehow European. Since there were no vacant tables, I admired the restaurant ambiance and atmosphere, but had my food to go.

Seasons and sauces
Oliva’s menu comprises appetizers, salads, pasta, and pizza, with a seasonal focus. The food items stay strictly within the Italian genre and do not dip into international or Americanized cuisine.

I ordered the seasonal mango and kale salad, a slice of pesto bread, the alfredo linguine, the Arrabiata linguine, the bufala pizza, and the Oliva pizza. The presentation of the dishes was simple, leaving the food to speak for itself.

The salad contained Kale, dried cranberries, avocado, and mangos tossed with a homemade vinaigrette. It was a definite highlight. Personally, I might have swapped out the mangos for orange segments, and I would definitely have added goat cheese. Nevertheless, the salad was very good, and it will only be around as long as mangos are in season, so if you want to taste this recommendation, the time is ripe.

Pasta: three basic ingredients — egg, flour, and oil — that today come in hundreds of variations with different shapes, sizes, and even flavors and colors. Spaghetti, linguine, and other long, thin pastas are typically served with thicker, creamier sauces. For lighter sauces, pastas with shorter, more complex shapes like penne and fusilli are better suited.

The two pasta dishes I ordered were both cooked to a perfect al dente, with a slight bite. The Arrabiata sauce, a tomato sauce with a spicy kick, had a unique flavor due to the use of jalapenos instead of the typical crushed red pepper. Despite my surprise that Oliva offered their Arrabiata with linguine as opposed to the commonly used penne, I still enjoyed the dish.

Tomato sauce, or marinara, is the heart of every Italian restaurant. Some establishments roast the tomatoes, some fill their sauce with herbs, and others keep it quite light and simple. The flavor of the tomato sauce at Oliva leaned more towards the latter category — not necessarily my favorite since I prefer sauce with a little more depth, but that does not mean it was not delicious.

The alfredo, with the addition of mushroom and chicken, was creamy with the right amount of parmesan cheese in the sauce (as if there is such a thing as too much parmesan cheese). I did notice a slight inconsistency in how the mushrooms and the chickens were cut, even though some chicken pieces had a good sear.

Simplicity, well-executed
Moving on to the pizzas, I have to say that Oliva’s medium size is substantial, enough to feed two to three people. The dough itself is spot-on: light, with a touch of sweetness, and cooked to perfection with no dryness.

The bufala pizza was simple and to-the-point with tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella  cheese, garnished with fresh basil leaves. I am all for simplicity, but I would recommend pesto droplets on top instead the basil. The nuttiness and the herbiness of the pesto would bring a fuller flavor experience.

The Oliva pizza consisted of roast beef, turkey, olives, and peppers in a special Oliva sauce. I enjoyed the lightness of the pizza with its understated ingredients and thin crust. It was an unusual mix of flavors for me, and I liked that the olives did not overpower the whole thing, especially since they were not run-of-the-mill canned black olives. The pizzas here are worth a try, especially for the well-crafted dough.

Overall, Oliva has very unique feel to it, a rare find in Amman, and a great strength for a restaurant. The authenticity and rustic feel are not only seen but felt at this place. My one recommendation: add a hearty soup selection for the winter season (especially a creamy tomato soup derived from homemade tomato sauce) and maybe a homemade seasonal ravioli.

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