The term â€œMediterranean restaurantâ€ often conjures up very particular types of cuisine, cuisine much more akin to Greece, Turkey and Lebanon than other countries that sit along the border of the giant sea. Olive Leaf Bistro looks at the map, sees those nations and adds in Spain, Italy, France and even northern African countries. Then it finds elements of those regionsâ€™ cuisine that it can cook.
Olive Leaf is a venture by chef Jimmy Shraby, whose previous restaurant, Souffle in New Jersey, was open for 15 years and attracted a wide and loyal following. But whereas his previous establishment focused firmly on one type of cuisine, Shrabyâ€™s vision for Olive Leaf was to incorporate cuisine found all around the rim of the Mediterranean â€“ Italy, France, Spain, Lebanon and even elements from Shrabyâ€™s native Egypt. In short, food that Shraby grew up eating or learning to cook and love.
If thereâ€™s one word you can use to describe Shrabyâ€™s cooking, itâ€™s â€œlight.â€ From appetizers to entrees and desserts, the menu â€“ which recently switched to the summer menu â€“ is a plethora of light offerings, perfect to consume at any time during these increasingly hot days. Take the appetizers we sampled: cool gazpacho as well as hummus, served with pita, warm and crispy falafel and creamy tahini and yogurt sauce. The gazpacho was refreshing just by virtue of its temperature, and with no protein, it had nothing weighing it down. The hummus, in the meantime, was flavorful and elevated even more by a scoop of salty and briny feta cheese. Elsewhere, the bruschetta was a treat, given the fact that bread topped off with juicy tomatoes can never fail â€“ nor can a classic caprese salad with thick cuts of fresh mozzarella.
Shrabyâ€™s menu also uses a lot of seafood, which makes sense given the focus is on the Mediterranean. A sumptuous and classic appetizer â€“ and a perfect dish for sharing â€“ was the mussels, served in a buttery white wine sauce. Meanwhile, one of the best entrees on the menu is undoubtedly the seafood pasta, which came with shrimp, mussels, scallops and another light sauce. Another great offering was the grilled chicken kebab â€“ a smoky and savory concoction served with aromatic basmati rice. Itâ€™s wholesome yet perfect for the summer.
The best example of what Shraby is able to do came with the dessert and his signature dish: the souffle. Yes, there is a fabulous chocolate creme brulee thatâ€™s also tempting and delightful, but the souffle is the real winner.
Guests are informed this dish should be ordered at the same time as the entree due to the labor-intensive aspect of the dish and the delicate nature of the souffle in general. On the day of our visit, Shrabyâ€™s souffle was of the strawberry variety, served with a warm strawberry sauce while hinting at the flavor of the berry within its soft texture. The souffle was a revelation. While I may not have had a ton of souffles in my life, I can say that this one was sheer delight. One cannot even describe its periodic ingestion as a bite â€“ that would imply you feel something in your mouth. But Shrabyâ€™s creation is so light; each mouthful is a ghost of flavor. Itâ€™s worth visiting just for this.
But there is much more than the souffle that gives cause to hop across the river and stop by Olive Leaf. The restaurantâ€™s view is almost unparalleled with a fine vista of the Louisville skyline, and as itâ€™s only two blocks away from the walking bridge, it makes for a fine evening excursion.
Olive Leaf Bistro is located at 130 W. Riverside Dr., Jeffersonville, IN 47130. For more information call 812.913.1252 or visit oliveleafbistro.com
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS