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“New year, new you” is certainly the theme for partners Ty Leon, Heather Morrison, and Austin Carson, who spent the first weeks of 2020 transforming Café Marmotte, the Wash Park West bistro they purchased last summer, into an Italian trattoria inspired by Morrison’s nine-year-old daughter, called Restaurant Olivia. The trio opened the (literal) new door to the pasta-centric restaurant earlier this week, debuting a renovated dining room and menu meant to make Italophiles swoon.
With help from local woodworker (and former Mizuna wine director) Kelly Wooldridge of SGO Works, Leon, Morrison, and Carson have refurbished the dining room into a peaceful, beautiful space. Café Marmotte’s rust-orange walls are no longer, having been replaced by a gentle grey hue, and the chairs and banquettes have been refinished with ivory vegan leather. Floral pendant light fixtures draw the eye upward, while Woolridge’s white oak tables and new bar shelving ground the renovation, with Restaurant Olivia’s elegant logo decorating black window awnings and that new door.
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What is on the plate? Pasta, pasta, pasta, all thanks to Leon’s handiwork and an imported La Monferrina bronze-die extruder. There are two full pages of such offerings, including four stuffed versions (cappelletti, tortellini, agnolotti, and triangolini), three noodle dishes (spaghetti, garganelli, mafaldine), and a dish of ricotta gnocchi with romanesco pesto. Early tastes of Leon’s basil-infused mafaldine with pork-and-veal meatballs and toasted garlic pomodoro sauce and rabbit-stuffed cappelletti with wild mushrooms were outstanding, each supple noodle sporting an ideal chew while the savory sauces and fillings deliver true cold-weather comfort.
There are only three entrées on Restaurant Olivia’s opening menu, one of which is a reimagined chicken Marsala in which braised leg or roasted breast come with rich, cheesy aligot potatoes (a nod to the restaurant’s Gallic predecessor), pickled shallots, and garlic-roasted kale. Leon is also cooking veal Milanese and Baja Pacifico bass with white beans and salsa verde. Appetizers run the gamut from risotto cacio e pepe and French onion arancini to house-made focaccia and a French-leaning plate of banana bread (Morrison’s specialty) topped with beautifully seared foie gras, madeira jus, bacon, and madeira gelato.
Carson’s beverage program has foundations in Italy, but a talent like his cannot be contained in one cuisine… nor in traditional glassware. “Most of my drinks begin with the vessel,” Carson says, which explains why there is a tiki option, the crushable pineapple mezcal-based Zombie, served in wonderful bone hand mugs by local ceramicist Edie Marie. (Carson recommends that drink as a meal-ender with the passionfruit semifreddo dessert). He’s also stirring up old fashioneds made with peanut butter bourbon; sazeracs with cherry-walnut rye; and an Aperol spritz with sparkling rosé. There’s also a negroni program, including riffs on the classic cocktail spanning flavor variations from Nutella to a Caprese version with tomato, basil, and aged balsamic.
Bubbly is big on the wine list, which includes six sparkling wines (and four reserve options) by the glass, all of which can also be turned into Champagne-esque cocktails. The bottle list is more than half Italian, and “the rest are things that we like and believe in,” Carson says. “Prices start at $30 and top out at $750, but there are a lot of fun things to drink in the $50–$60 range.”
To finish your meal, Carson has also created a number of fortified and dessert wines to go with, well, desserts. The thoughtful pairings include brown butter bomboloni (doughnuts) with walnut madeira; lemon-olive oil cake with house-made limoncello, redolent of lemon, pistachio, and vanilla; and the aforementioned passionfruit semifreddo with raspberry-infused Sauternes (if Zombies aren’t your thing).
Morrison reigns over all of the above as Restaurant Olivia’s hospitality maven (and girl Olivia’s mom). Just as she was during the time of Café Marmotte (and before that, at Bistro Georgette and Mizuna), she will be there to greet you when you enter the room and take care of you as long as you remain. Restaurant Olivia is more than a new place to eat, after all. It’s a family affair.
290 S. Downing St., 303-999-0395. Dinner only, closed on Mondays.