The 17-course tasting menu at La Oliva in Granada might best be described as a religious experience: for just one evening, Jeremy and I got to experience food and wine so good that words do not do it justice, food that made us feel like we were being let in on a secret of sorts. This might all sound a bit dramatic, but I’m being completely serious. The food, wine, and atmosphere at La Oliva were simply that good. But we can’t keep this secret to ourselves, as the world must know about this amazing treasure of Granada.
An Experience We’ll Never Forget
We went in to La Oliva on a whim, not sure what to expect. We had read that La Oliva is mainly a store selling Spanish food products by day, and a small tasting restaurant by night. When we got to the store, it appeared closed, but Francisco and his assistant came to the door and told us to come on in. We looked around awkwardly for a few minutes until I sheepishly asked if they did tastings or dinners. To our delight, Francisco said that he was in fact preparing for a tasting dinner that evening, and that we would be welcome to come. We asked how much it would be, thinking that it was probably out of our budget, but when he said it was only 35 Euro a person Jeremy and I looked at each other and immediately said yes, we would be there!
We came back at the prescribed time and met the other four people who were doing the tasting with us. Francisco’s space is small and usually he only has 4-8 people on any given night, which is really nice and adds to the ambiance of the evening. Pretty soon we were given our first course, three different olive oils with bread for dipping, and our first white wine.
As the restaurant is dedicated primarily to olive oil, these three oils were quite special and deserve a bit more of an explanation, which Francisco gives with every course. The first oil selected for our table was a highly prized olive oil from the region. The second was an olive oil made from ten unique olives to produce one oil in extremely limited quantities of < 1,000 liters per year, 750 mL of which we are now proud owners of. The final oil was also a blend, but this time of five separately prepared olive oils blended into one final product. Each had their own unique flavor, highlighting the complexities of olive oil in ways we’ve never tasted. Suffice it to say, you could taste the olives, and that was the point. This first tasting sets the tone for the entire evening, and prepares you for olive oil to be used in ways you never thought possible.
Next came a mixture of olives, onions, and paprika, followed by a plate of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth Granada charcuterie (jamon Iberico, lomo, salchichon, chorizo, and Serrano). With each dish Francisco gave us a little background on its origins or how it was made, which really added positively to the whole experience. Our next two tastes were cherry tomatoes drizzled with basil-infused olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, and potato chips fried in olive oil and topped with a mixture of grilled onions and red and green peppers. Somewhere along the way we were topped off with more of the first white wine, and also received a second white wine, too.
At this point we were kind of counting the dishes and wines, realizing we still had many more of both to get to and that we were already starting to get full, when Jeremy looked at me and said, “What did you get us in to?” An evening of blissful excess, that’s what.
Next we were served chorizo that had been cooked in the second white wine we were currently drinking, and boiled asparagus served along olive oil-infused mayo. The next dish was one of our favorites: a shrimp, egg, and scape scramble – topped with olive oil of course. If you’ve never had scapes, they’re the tops of the garlic plant and they have a really wonderful garlic and onion flavor. The freshness and simplicity of the dish was just absolutely divine!
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The following course was an interesting salad of green beans, red peppers, onions, hard boiled egg, and tuna, which was all dressed in a sherry vinegar and the olive oil that came from the can of tuna. A flaky, tender filet of hake was served next; the fish was topped with a salsa of cucumber, parsley, onion, tomato, and a lemon-infused olive oil. Another one of my favorite dishes followed: a chickpea, potato, and carrot salad dressed with olive oil. The light, fruity olive oil flavor that lingered over this dish really enhanced and complemented the flavors of the vegetables. A slight hint of ham was tasted in this dish, although no ham was to be found on the plate. We quickly came to find out we were about to eat that very same ham that was cooked with the chickpeas in the next dish as it was arriving to our already full table.
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That dish was Salmorejo, something that we had several times while in Spain. It is kind of like a thick version of gazpacho, and this particular version seemed to be made of cooked, pureed carrots and also contained the bits of ham and pork shoulder that we were teased with in the previous dish.
The only course that we did not particularly care for was the fava beans with jamon Iberico, served next. Although it is the national dish of Granada, we could not get past the bitterness of the beans. Francisco knows that not everyone will like every dish he prepares, and told us several times throughout the evening he would not be offended if there was something we did not like. It was all a part of the experience of trying new things, and a great philosophy of life. But up until this point, we never left a single piece of food on any of our plates.
With the last few courses we were served an excellent dessert sherry, Pedro Ximinez Candado, that is made from raisins. It was so good that we bought two of the 10 Euro bottles to bring back with us, knowing that a sherry this good could easily sell for $40 back home! The dessert courses started with a plate of six local cheeses that ranged from soft to hard, mild to intense. They were all truly excellent and the dollop of fig jam served alongside was a perfect foil to their richness. As our next dish of honeydew and loquat was served, I was seriously wishing I had worn stretch pants, or a stretchy skirt, or something! The loquat was interesting- it was a local in-season fruit that had the texture of a pear and a mild apricot flavor. Upon serving this course, Francisco said he had to leave to get dessert (Jeremy and I looked at each other- “There’s more?!”), and he came back with a super rich dark chocolate ice cream that he topped with sea salt and drizzled with an orange-infused olive oil. After taking a bite of ice cream and a sip of sherry, my eyes rolled to the back of my head- the explosion of flavors was so intense and delicious. The richness of the chocolate ice cream was perfectly cut by the sweetness of the sherry.
And last, but not least, we were served a plate of assorted chocolates and nut-containing candies. When I told Francisco I was allergic to nuts he happily opened up five different chocolate bars (rum and raisin, dark chocolate, cinnamon, orange, and mint) and offered me some of those instead.
17 courses and more glasses of wine than I can count later, the meal was complete. At the end we got a chance to learn more about Francisco and his love and respect of the olive. After all, nearly every dish had olive oil incorporated in it some how. We only had one question, and that was where he was trained as a chef. The response we received was shocking. Francisco is not a trained chef at all, and only owned a small restaurant previously for just a few years before opening his current store over a decade ago! When we expressed our surprise at this fact he offered to show us his kitchen in the back room. That kitchen, as it turned out, was one small burner powered by a propane tank, much like you’d take on a camping trip. This small burner and amazing man produced one of the best meals we ever had, and left us without words.
When it was all said and done we waddled out of our seats and said farewell to Francisco. He really was one of the most humble people we have met, downplaying everything from his English skills to his culinary knowledge, and very hospitable to boot. The whole evening at La Oliva was truly a once in a lifetime experience, the kind that makes you look back and smile at how perfect and right everything in the world was in that moment.