Sunday, October 1, 2023

In photos: Olivero now open at Third and Castle streets

The Spanish-Italian-inspired venture, located at Castle and Third streets, will unlock its doors to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Reservations are now open here. (Port City Daily/Chad Keith)

WILMINGTON — After a week of soft openings, the public will get a first look at James Beard Award-nominated chef Sunny Gerhart’s new Wilmington restaurant, Olivero.

READ MORE: Olivero offers sneak peek of menu ahead of summer opening

ALSO: Raleigh restaurateur to bring Spanish-Italian flavors of New Orleans to Olivero

(Port City Daily/Chad Keith)

The Spanish-Italian-inspired venture, located at Castle and Third streets, opens Wednesday night. Reservations are open to the public here.

Gerhart, who runs St. Roch Oyster Bar in Raleigh, announced the eatery in April 2022. It’s been under renovation with the help of James Goodnight — son of SAS CEO Jim Goodnight — who purchased the building in 2018 for $250,000, according to property records. Goodnight is known for historic renovation projects across town, including the restaurant Seabird.

The Moonstone at the front and Tres Palmas behind it, the latter consisting of Cachaçha, Puerto Rican rum, grilled pineapple, lime and absinthe. (Port City Daily/Chad Keith)

The property, empty for more than a decade, was built in 1948 and used to be a dry cleaners, corner store and wig shop. Renovations have left its exposed masonry intact with visible steel beams and a 12-foot ceiling painted dark green. Maurer Architecture and Old School Rebuilders helped see through the end result.

Wood and leather seating is available in deep-set booths or at marble-cut countertop tables, comfortably fitting around 65 diners in the 2,500-square-foot space. Jamie Meares of Furbish, who worked with Gerhart on St. Roch, has outfitted the space with Swedish bespoke wallpaper and a mosaic wall installation featuring Moroccan zellige handcrafted tiles — terracotta and similar to subway tiles, only square instead of round.

The nearby cocktail and kitchen bars sport burnished brass countertops, overlooking the action taking place behind the scenes. Cocktails, created by bar director Robby Dow, average $14, such as a refreshing take on a Palermo: the Moonstone is served with blanco tequila, grapefruit, pink peppercorn, lemon and soda.

A few high-octane sippers can be found as well, such as the El Duro, which comes with bonded rye whiskey, Lustau Rojo, Benedictine and Angostura.

A 1920’s Spanish tradition gets an update in the Kalimoxto — Tempranillo red wine, Spanish vermouth, cola, lime, Fernet Branca, and soda water, while the Boilermaker comes as a duo. Eight ounces of Basque cider is joined by a 3.5-ounce Baby Bamboo, a sherry and vermouth cocktail. It’s to be enjoyed similar to the South’s version of a shot of whiskey followed by a sip of Miller High Life, only fancier and to be sipped.

A vermouth list is also available; the aperitif is a Spanish national pastime.

Campanelle — flute-shaped pasta with ruffled edges — is layered with savory tomato sauce, fennel sausage and aged pecorino, topped with anchovy-breadcrumbs. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Homemade pasta is the centerpiece of Olivero’s menu. Lasagna gets an update with Spanish-procured octopus and chorizo to create a bolognese ($31), layered with whipped ricotta.

The campanelle ($28) — flute-shaped pasta with ruffled edges — is layered with savory tomato sauce, fennel sausage and aged pecorino, topped with anchovy-breadcrumbs. The sprinkles provide texture and crunch, with a slight saltiness backed by heat in every bite.

Other mains include hearty wood-fired meats, over a hand-cranked Argentinian-inspired grill created by Grillworks. The piece of equipment — used by Michelin-starred chefs worldwide — is controlled by a master raking coals and manning the wood, while overseeing the rising and lowering of the grill plates to control the temperature at which the meats cook. The grill plates are slanted to make sure the fat drippings move away from the fire beneath.

Ribeye served with cool and preserved vegetables, giardiniera, and Castelvetrano olives. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

The smoke billowing from the restaurant is passers-by first introduction to Olivero. Items like twice-cooked pork shoulder ($38) and grilled North Carolina fish ($35) come with a smoky char. The grill produces a mouth-watering ribeye ($52), the unctuousness of the seared meat is tamed by a mound of cool and preserved vegetables, giardiniera, and Castelvetrano olives over top.

Unexpected items get the preserved and smoked treatment at Olivero. A beets and peaches salad ($16), for instance, is highlighted by charred grilled peaches and pickled blackberries — the latter not too vinegary, just enough to bring out the sweetness of the fruit. It’s served with pistachios, Campari and whipped taleggio.

Smoked blackberry compote is dressed alongside a slice of Basque cheesecake — crustless and often referred to as “burned cheesecake” in Basque country, which spans from Bilbao, Spain, north to Bayonne, France. The dessert is lighter and airier than other versions of cheesecake, served with olive oil and sea salt.

The Olivero menu consists of almost 20 items, including a handful of appetizers, such as the croquetas ($8), stuffed with Serrano ham, creamy fontina and Spanish paprika atop a homemade Romesco of peanuts, Serrano peppers, pecorino and olive oil.

Gerhart, whose familial roots are planted in New Orleans, also tips his toque to the Big Easy, as seen in a beignet, served with mortadella, Fontina fonduta and Calabrian hot honey ($10).

Pictures of his relatives hang on the walls throughout the space — his grandfather, Jose Olivero, a Spanish sailor who settled in the Big Easy after traveling from Seville, Spain, married into an Italian family.

“Olivero is inspired by my mom, Shawn Marie Olivero Gerhart,” Gerhart explained to PCD last year.

Gerhart has tapped Lauren Krall Ivey as his co-executive chef. The two worked together at Ashley Christensen’s Poole’s Diner more than a decade ago. Ivey moved on to Christensen’s Death & Taxes and gained experience in wood-fired cooking.

“It’s always rewarding to be involved at the very beginning of a restaurant project, and even more so with Sunny, for whom I have so much respect,” she said in a press release. 

Olivero is open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

(Port City Daily/Chad Keith)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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