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Dining Out: Romancing the olive at We Olive on Smith Street

California extra virgin olive oils and the foods made with them are showcased at a sleek little olive oil bar/eatery that has been at home on Smith Street for the past year.

We Olive – which combines a restaurant, a wine bar and a retail store – provides not only a delightful dining experience, but a learning one as well.

BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Helen Klein
BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Helen Klein

Every diner gets a free olive oil tasting, with artisanal oils paired with the appropriate balsamic vinegar. Dunking little cubes of bread into the unctuous pairing is definitely addictive, with the flavors frankly a revelation.

On my visit, I sampled a trio of pairings. The Meyer lemon-infused olive oil was combined with an aged Balsamic vinegar, which provided a sweet-tart foil to the bright citrus flavor of the oil. Jalapeño-infused olive oil met its match in pineapple balsamic vinegar; the spiciness of the oil was enhanced by the lively pineapple flavor permeating the vinegar. And, basil-infused olive oil was the yin to blackberry balsamic vinegar’s yang; the flavor is fresh and fabulous.

I also had the opportunity to sample three of We Olive’s olio nuovo selections. Olio nuovo, literally “new oil,” is only available each year for a short time in late autumn. Owner Angelo Incorvaia said the olives in this year’s olio nuovo were harvested on November 13, and the oil arrived at We Olive just five days later. It is likely to be gone shortly, so those interested in trying it should get to We Olive really soon.

One taste is all you need to realize that this is not your everyday olive oil. The smooth, rich flavor of traditional extra virgin oil gives way in olio nuovo to something fresher, rawer, even occasionally bitter, with a distinct personality that adds a very different note to finished dishes.

I sampled three varieties of olio nuovo. The Seka Hills was the mildest, the Fandango the most pungent and even peppery, with We Olive’s house variety coming in with grassy notes that tease the palate. Each of these used as a finishing oil could easily add a note of surprise to a standard dish. If you’ve never tasted olio nuovo before, I have four words of advice: “Foodies, start your engines.”

I also sampled a pair of panini and two flatbread offerings.

The Caprese Panini ($12) combined meltingly luscious mozzarella cheese with roasted tomato and pesto, dressed with basil-infused extra virgin olive oil and blackberry balsamic vinegar, which provided an unexpected sweet note, adding complexity to the flavor of the sandwich.

The Chicken Panini ($13) also offered some surprises—thanks to crisp apple slices, aged cheddar, peppery arugula, garlic olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar that soaked into the bread on one side, for a combination that was simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.

The Roasted Vegetable Flatbread ($13) offered a tantalizing interplay of contrasting flavors, from the sweet balsamic vinegar to the tangy goal cheese and Kalamata olives to the rich, full-bodied roasted mushrooms. Feathery arugula added to the carnival of tastes as did roasted tomatoes.

Finally, the Parmesan Asiago Flatbread ($11) was a cheese-lover’s delight. The combination of two assertive cheeses with crispy shards of prosciutto and a sprinkling of arugula was absolutely addictive. Olio nuovo provided the perfect finishing touch to this complex combination.

We Olive, said Incorvaia, is a small chain that originated in 2003 in California olive country as a medium for introducing consumers to the largely unknown oils produced in the state by small growers. All of the oils the store showcases are guaranteed extra virgin and certified by the California Olive Oil Council. While the olives are grown on the West Coast, the style of the oils echoes that of European oils from a variety of locales, from Spain to Tuscany. All of the flavor infusions are done during the milling process, which results in clarity and purity of flavor

At this point, Incorvaia’s shop is the only We Olive in New York and, indeed, on the East Coast. Its wine list reflects its location; besides wines from out west, it also includes ones from New York’s Finger Lakes region as well as the North Fork of Long Island. Local beers are also on the menu.

We Olive
116 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-855-2907
weolive.com/Brooklyn
Sunday-Monday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

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