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Monday
Mar032008

Olana

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[Kalina/NYMag]

Note: Olana has closed. Click here for our obituary.

Olana opened in late February on a slightly gloomy stretch of lower Madison Avenue. The restaurant is named for the Upstate New York Persian-style home of the artist Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900). A Hudson Valley theme is supposed to run through Olana’s DNA, though we found it somewhat imperfectly realized.

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Frederic Edwin Church’s home, Olana [olana.org]

Al di Meglio, formerly of Osteria del Circo, is running the kitchen, and his Italian roots are evident on a menu where pasta dishes shine. We noted plenty of ingredients that, as far as we know, are not indigenous to the Hudson Valley, such as sea urchin, octopus and king crab. Others, like Roasted Rabbit and Organic Chicken, could have come from local sources, but the menu didn’t say so.

More puzzling was the wine list, which was reasonably priced, but followed no plan of organization that I could detect. It had only one wine from New York State—a white from the South Fork of Long Island.

The space is beautifully appointed in deep, plush red. There is a gorgeous semi-circular bar that already appears to be a hit with the neighborhood’s after-work crowd. In the dining room, large bright glass panels showing naturalistic upstate scenery were a bit jarring in the clubby-looking surroundings.

The restaurant is offering a preview menu for the first two weeks, at 15% off. Service seemed a bit confused at times, as one might expect in the opening days. One server sounded like a brash Texan, but another called us monsieur et madame. Olana is clearly intended to be upscale and, by today’s standards, relatively formal. One can only hope that they’ll pull it off.

The menu is divided into appetizers, pastas (available in appetizer or entrée portions), fish and meat, plus side dishes. There are roughly a half-dozen in each category. I failed to note the prices, but they’re at the high end. You can also construct your own 4, 5, or 6-course tasting menu, choosing any items from the menu. We had the four-course tasting ($62, before the discount).

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Amuse-bouche (left); Risotto with sea urchin, king crab and black truffles (right)

The amuse bouche was a delicate tarte with pear and tomato jelly. I loved the first course, an exquisite risotto with sea urchin, king crab and black truffles. My girlfriend tried another pasta dish, the chestnut crespelle with ricotta, mushrooms and pine nuts, which she liked, but was surprised to find was more like a crepe than a pasta.

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Armagnac and Orange Poached Flounder (left); Roasted Rabbit (right)

We had mixed reactions to the fish course. I thought the kitchen had a deft touch with an Armagnac and Blood Orange Poached Flounder, but my girlfriend thought that Striped Bass was dull.

An impressive entrée of Roasted Rabbit was stuffed with almonds, apricots and foie gras. It also seemed to both of us that the whole production was wrapped in bacon, though the menu did not say so. My girlfriend didn’t want to eat Bugs Bunny, so she had the Grilled Berkshire Pork Loin, which was just fine, but not nearly as impressive.

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Ice Cream (left); Petits-fours (right)

We both wimped out on dessert, mainly because we were full. There are more interesting choices than ice cream, but that was all we were in the mood for. A nice plate of petits-fours was, unfortunately, lost on us.

On this early showing, Olana appears to be serving ambitious cuisine, much of which is very good indeed. I can’t fathom why they opened with an obvious “Hudson Valley” theme, and then offered a menu and wine list that fails to fully exploit it. But if that is rectified, Olana’s quiet elegance could make it a compelling addition to the restaurant scene.

Olana (72 Madison Avenue between 27th & 28th Streets, Flatiron District)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **

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