Did Oliver ask, "Please sir, can I have less?" No, not even on a good day. That's where small plate culture goes wrong. Really, you can spend a small fortune on them and leave unsatisfied. Thankfully, the newly reopened Olives -- the seat of Todd English's restaurant empire launched from the very same Charlestown spot in 1989 -- has gone over to the small plate side and got it right.
The revamped Olives is stripped down, steely looking, and wide-open plan in design. But its beautifully concise menu, which centers on trending small, sharable plates, has rich tantalizing selections. How about corn bread baked in a giant clamshell and topped with crispy whole belly clams and soaked in a highly spicy harissa aioli? Yum! Or Olives' original signature "Carpetbagger Oysters" -- crispy tempura battered oysters wrapped in beef carpaccio sitting on a soft bed of truffled creamed potato.
Even raw bar items, the place on any menu liable to leave you feeling light of wallet and stomach, are satisfying. Amazing fluke crudo accented with citrusy kumquat and a delicate scattering of sliced jalapeno fills the plate. Fills it! The fish is thickly sliced to show off its elegant flavor and velvety texture, which is enhanced by crunchy pink sea salt and a drizzle of silky olive oil.
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Pastas, flatbreads and entrees, oh my! Large plates augment the menu with more voluptuous flavorings: Salmon is topped with equally densely flavored crabmeat and matched with piquant artichoke; marinated skirt steak has short rib stuffed ravioli and corn pudding.
Sharing small plates often deny basic human nature and need: greed and hunger. When it comes to small plates, less just has to be more. Olives maxes out a minimal concept nicely.