Olives at the Bellagio Hotel is a Todd English venture, and one of six Olives locations worldwide, including Tokyo. Todd English himself helms the Charlestown, Massachusetts location. The Las Vegas Olives opened more than five years ago, and is headed by Executive Chef Isaac Carter, who has worked for English for over ten years. Carter and English have an established history together in executing English’s creations successfully, and it shows.
English’s rustic Italian cuisine is an ideal complement to the backdrop of the Bellagio, with its elegant adornments within and beautiful scenery all around.
One enters Olives from within the Bellagio’s shopping area. Above, in the corridor, are whimsical oversized blown glass butterflies and skylights. The only division between the restaurant and the walkway is a wrought iron wall, which lends an open-air feeling to the restaurant, if making it a bit less private. In front of the restaurant is a podium, where a formally dressed staff member checks reservations, and hands diners off to efficient hosts and hostesses. The interior of the restaurant is warm and intimate, and the décor features dark woods, and golden tones. One of the main features in the dining room is the large bar, as well as the view of the fountains and Lake Bellagio, both from the dining room as well as the terrace.
Olives is representative of many of the restaurants on the strip, where space comes at a premium and tables are closely spaced. The exception to this rule is the terrace, which is spacious, and has a breathtaking view. As the sun begins to set, the Bellagio’s fountains become even more spectacular, as they become illuminated. The interior restaurant can get quite busy, and the noise level varies considerably between the dining room and the terrace. Reservations are recommended – strongly recommended.
We dined at Olives on a Tuesday evening with an early reservation. However, if one arrives at the podium promptly at five, it’s possible to be seated on the terrace, facing Lake Bellagio and the fountains. It was very quiet and serene. The atmosphere between the dining room and terrace is night and day—the interior dining room is electrified, a place to people watch, and come before and after shows. In contrast, the terrace cries out to be a ‘date night’ destination.
Olives is designed to take diners to Engish’s Mediterranean roots, if but for a short while. Chef Carter explains he wants diners to feel they’ve been “whisked away to Lake Como.” The food is spot-on with Italian flavors. Each dish, from the appetizer, to the pasta, to the entrée, takes the diner on a journey through English’s world of authentic Mediterranean cuisine, the destination being the return home.
The tables are spotlessly clean granite, set with imported Italian silverware. The plates are rectangular and immaculate white. Service for each table begins when the server delivers a basket of assorted bread, and black and green olive tapenade. The basket includes a particularly delectable caramelized onion foccacia bread. It’s savory, moist, and the tapenade is robust, and a wonderful combination.
Our server, Chris, was knowledgeable and helpful. When we asked, he offered recommendations regarding menu items; when we pondered just how many cranes were on the horizon from all of the construction going up in the area, he knew just how many. He offered up helpful facts, and took the extra step to ask how, and specifically in what order, we wished our food delivered. This extra attention meant everything.
We began our meal with the Beef Carpaccio. The meat was flavorful and paper-thin, and served very simply. It was served on and around a small haystack of greens, and had three sauces drizzled on top. It was also topped with an abundance of shaved parmesan, and adorned with cipollini onions. This dish was topped with a Roquefort crema, as well as polenta, and a dark, balsamic sauce. It was amazing – every bite brought something different. The meat spoke for itself, but tried with greens, or with onion, or one sauce, or a different sauce, or with more of the parmesan, or less, it changed the mood of the dish. The ‘perfect bite’ means something different to everyone, and this dish had so many.
Next to arrive was the Caesar Salad. This was a traditional Caesar, made with crisp and fresh Romaine, and Roma tomatoes, gently tossed with the dressing. It was topped with homemade olive oil croutons and grated parmesan cheese. This salad was fresh and simple. Good food doesn’t have to be fussy or complicated – it can be just that: good.
Our final starter was one of Olives’s signature flatbreads, the Portobello. Olives is renowned for their fabulous artisinal flatbreads, and this did not disappoint. The flatbread was spread with wild mushroom puree; sprinkled with herb-roasted Portobello mushrooms, red onions, and Fontina cheese; then drizzled with white truffle oil and baked to creamy perfection. It was very rich, and tasted particularly naughty. I could taste every ingredient, from the earthy wild mushrooms, to the delicate Fontina, to the hint of white truffle. All of the flavors were there individually, but they married beautifully.
The staff at Olives makes 2000-3000 pieces of pasta daily, on a single pasta machine. It’s more than just strict technical expertise that creates these dishes. This staff cares about creating something special for their clients. We ordered Butternut Squash Tortelli with Brown Butter Sage sauce. The large, stuffed tortelli were brought in a white bowl, with parmesan cheese on top, garnished with a deep-fried sage leaf. This pasta was like candy. The squash filling had some sweetness to it, and the sauce was rich and savory with the sage. This was such a departure from the mundane spaghetti with meat sauce of our collective childhood. This was pasta for grownups. It combined sweet with savory, was silky smooth, and was one of the true high notes of our meal.
Lastly, we received our Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop. It was perfectly cooked, served on top of a bed of spicy pork chili, and accompanied by a twice-baked Vidalia onion pudding. The use of balsamic smoked tomato marmalade tied the dish to its Italian-Mediterranean roots, for the most part. My only criticism of this dish, however, was that served on a bed of chili, it didn’t neatly fit the restaurant’s overall theme of rustic Italian/Mediterranean cuisine. This was a dish designed to ‘push the envelope.’ The dish was nicely prepared, though, and the chili went quite well with the onion pudding – but the pork chop didn’t need it.
Our meal was top notch. Olives is exacting about the menu, the preparation, and the service. The restaurant is a hotspot (complete with requisite hotspot volume), though their terrace is a welcome, quiet oasis. It is about atmosphere, and quality of food, all working together to create something special. Come to Olives for the reputation, and come back again and again for the food and the service.