raindrops have hit Jordanian soil, signaling the beginning of the winter
season. With the change in weather come memories of cold days spent hibernating
at home and cravings for hot, carb-heavy foods to fill stomachs and hearts. And
there is no better cuisine than Italian to give those cozy, comfort-food vibes.
So, under this
week’s cloudy Amman skies, I headed to Jabal Luweibdeh to eat at a quaint
little Italian restaurant: Oliva. I had heard a lot about this establishment
and its authentic atmosphere, and I knew I had to try it out, especially since
it has been gaining popularity among Ammanites.
The first thing I
noticed when I walked into Oliva was the employee diversity; a refreshing sight
to see. Advocating for gender equality in the workplace, especially in
hospitality, Oliva has established a balanced working environment in both the
front of the house and the kitchen.
The restaurant is
relatively small, with a limited number of tables in both its indoor and
outdoor areas. The décor is simple and rustic, and the sidewalk tables make it
feel somehow European. Since there were no vacant tables, I admired the
restaurant ambiance and atmosphere, but had my food to go.
Seasons and sauces
Oliva’s menu comprises appetizers, salads, pasta, and pizza, with a
seasonal focus. The food items stay strictly within the Italian genre and do
not dip into international or Americanized cuisine.
I ordered the
seasonal mango and kale salad, a slice of pesto bread, the alfredo linguine,
the Arrabiata linguine, the bufala pizza, and the Oliva pizza. The presentation
of the dishes was simple, leaving the food to speak for itself.
The salad contained
Kale, dried cranberries, avocado, and mangos tossed with a homemade
vinaigrette. It was a definite highlight. Personally, I might have swapped out
the mangos for orange segments, and I would definitely have added goat cheese.
Nevertheless, the salad was very good, and it will only be around as long as
mangos are in season, so if you want to taste this recommendation, the time is
Pasta: three basic
ingredients — egg, flour, and oil — that today come in hundreds of variations
with different shapes, sizes, and even flavors and colors. Spaghetti, linguine,
and other long, thin pastas are typically served with thicker, creamier sauces.
For lighter sauces, pastas with shorter, more complex shapes like penne and
fusilli are better suited.
The two pasta
dishes I ordered were both cooked to a perfect al dente, with a slight bite.
The Arrabiata sauce, a tomato sauce with a spicy kick, had a unique flavor due
to the use of jalapenos instead of the typical crushed red pepper. Despite my
surprise that Oliva offered their Arrabiata with linguine as opposed to the
commonly used penne, I still enjoyed the dish.
Tomato sauce, or
marinara, is the heart of every Italian restaurant. Some establishments roast
the tomatoes, some fill their sauce with herbs, and others keep it quite light
and simple. The flavor of the tomato sauce at Oliva leaned more towards the
latter category — not necessarily my favorite since I prefer sauce with a
little more depth, but that does not mean it was not delicious.
The alfredo, with
the addition of mushroom and chicken, was creamy with the right amount of
parmesan cheese in the sauce (as if there is such a thing as too much parmesan
cheese). I did notice a slight inconsistency in how the mushrooms and the
chickens were cut, even though some chicken pieces had a good sear.
Moving on to the pizzas, I have to say that Oliva’s medium size is
substantial, enough to feed two to three people. The dough itself is spot-on:
light, with a touch of sweetness, and cooked to perfection with no dryness.
The bufala pizza
was simple and to-the-point with tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella cheese, garnished with fresh basil leaves. I
am all for simplicity, but I would recommend pesto droplets on top instead the
basil. The nuttiness and the herbiness of the pesto would bring a fuller flavor
The Oliva pizza
consisted of roast beef, turkey, olives, and peppers in a special Oliva sauce.
I enjoyed the lightness of the pizza with its understated ingredients and thin
crust. It was an unusual mix of flavors for me, and I liked that the olives did
not overpower the whole thing, especially since they were not run-of-the-mill
canned black olives. The pizzas here are worth a try, especially for the
Overall, Oliva has
very unique feel to it, a rare find in Amman, and a great strength for a
restaurant. The authenticity and rustic feel are not only seen but felt at this
place. My one recommendation: add a hearty soup selection for the winter season
(especially a creamy tomato soup derived from homemade tomato sauce) and maybe
a homemade seasonal ravioli.
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