It’s the enchanting North Capitol Hill space wrapped in stained glass and pastel wall murals of Pushkin fairy tales, in a cobbled stone building that looks like it came out of one. And yes—that is déjà vu you’re feeling: The Spanish restaurant Olivar is the third eatery in as many years to open here. Now, we could discuss the perils of the biz and the tyranny of overhead…or we could simply say that since opening its heavy wooden doors last July, Olivar has been one packed house.
Could be the exotic Andalusian fare, brought to us by the French-born, Seattle-tried chef Philippe Thomelin (Cascadia, Harvest Vine)—which suitably reflects the warmth of the room. Could be the menu’s versatile mix of affordably priced tapas ($5ish to $15ish) and large plates ($15 to $19) that’s transforming neighbors into regulars at an alarming rate. Those plates are still uneven: A tart albacore ceviche crostini special was stunning; a stuffed and breaded pork loin tapas lackluster as a Hot Pocket. So far, the successes at Olivar resound with an autumnal substance, and the failures disappoint with blandness.
But the crowd in here, threading their way through the close tables and holding hands to their ears to hear one another, hasn’t noticed. They’re just glad that their favorite restaurant got cooking again.