Olio e Piu: An Downtown Cocktail and Italian Food Oasis

Not everything in this city, I can happily report, is asphalt and steel and dust and sweat, contrary to what this past August (and September) may have tried to disprove. In little corners and great lawns, there’s a bit of greenery, a glimpse of bright blue, a wisp of a breeze, a shadow of more pleasant weather. There are the big places, like in Central Park or Prospect Park or Coney Island, which get crowded enough to prove the tragedy of the commons. But there are little places too, where you can carve out a bit of space and breathe easy and comfortably, for once. One of those places is Olio e Piu.

Never have I felt as comfortable at a major intersection as in Olio e Piu, where Sixth Avenue meets 8th Street, and 8th becomes Greenwich Ave. If one could call traffic peaceful, then one could cite this West Village intersection as proof: old, low buildings, wide streets and sidewalks too, well-removed from midtown and downtown. It’s there, nestled between a salon and a flower shop, where a garden sits.

I suppose this isn’t a garden in the truest sense of the world, in that it’s mostly indoors, wood covered, and it serves food and wine, but it could have fooled me. What with ivy covering the façade, small tea tables with matching chairs, and potted plants brushing the feet of diners, from the sidewalk this doesn’t look like a restaurant at all. And yet this is Olio e Piu, an Italian trattoria with a brick oven and a passion for the culinary tradition of past generations.

The dining room is beautiful and grand in a way that the sidewalk seating was simple and elegant. Dark wood streaks through the room, down the bar, across the kitchen window, through beams against the ceiling, a striking contrast to the soft white walls and the golden light flowing from a few chandeliers. There’s a small bar, and a counter in front of the kitchen, separated by a waterfall of flowers and leaves that crept in from the sidewalk. Several thick wooden tables fill the room, and conversation buzzes all about, families making plans, friends catching up, lovers whispering secrets.

I sat in the middle of it all, right in the open windowframe in the corner of the dining room, my left hand in open air on the sidewalk, my right feeling the warmth of the kitchen. Perfectly balanced was my view, perfectly balanced was my meal.

Olio e Piu prides itself on the food, and as well they should, so we’ll start there. The bruschetta is a full slice of bread, with a bit of ridiculously good tomato sauce, and is bigger and better than any other bruschetta I’ve had before. The pasta is magical, in that simultaneously heavy and weightless way, and the linguine paired well with the dozen or so clams that came with it. But the real treat here, the must-have, the headliner, the reason you come and the reason you stay, is the pizza. Made within that aforementioned brick oven, the result is that paradoxical combination of thin-crust and a doughy mold that does a very very good job of supporting the tomato sauce and cheese and sausage and peppers and mushrooms and whatever else you put on top of it. New York City pizza has many varieties… if you’re looking for a slice that’s worth its weight in gold, it’s here.

For the most part, wine is the obvious pairing for these dishes, and unlike many other Italian spots in the city, the wine list is actually manageable and helpful and understandable and perhaps if the conversation at the table isn’t quite to your taste, the leatherbound wine menu will help you find something that is. But, before you even get to the wine and the dishes and all that, you know you’re in a garden, and the cocktails Olio e Piu presents are indeed the obvious pairing for that.

The cocktail menu leans toward the floral and the sweet and the herbal… lime juice and cucumber and St. Germain and simple syrup find their way into gin drinks, vodka drinks, even cachaça drinks (or maybe one single cachaça drink that you heard about while watching the Olympics). There’s the Summer Olio, a tall & proud gin drink served in a martini glass. But looks can be deceiving; instead of vermouth there’s St. Germain; instead of olives, there are little bits of cucumber. It’s quite refreshing indeed, and the name serves it right. Also aptly named is the Go-to, a vodka cocktail served in a highball glass, which makes for a nice little aquarium as the cucumber wheels and mint leaves circulate amongst the lime juice, St. Germain, and lime juice. And, finally, of course, the Pimm’s Cup, which isn’t so much unique to Olio e Piu as just executed to perfection.

Each drink, including the glass of New Zealand wine that accompanied my pasta dish, provided a cool breeze, a hint of refreshment, a tangible taste of that fresh air that I can only imagine the flowers around are producing en masse, what with all the CO2 floating about in this city. Sometimes you find a little corner of a sidewalk somewhere, a hidden alcove, streets seemingly forgotten by the industry of mankind. And those places are great. Other times, even rarer, you find a place that hasn’t been forgotten, but has been preserved, complete with its tradition and history and a taste for what is truly enjoyable in this life: food, drink, family & friendship. Olio e Piu is the latter.

Olio e Piu details

3 Greenwich Ave., 212-243-6546, www.olionyc.com

Open Monday – Friday at 8 am, Saturday and Sunday at 10 am, closes at 12am on Sunday through Thursday, 1 am on Friday and Saturday


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