Saturday, March 21, 2009

Restaurant Olive Oil Roundup

Thanks to Trader-Joe's, I've only recently come to appreciate good olive oil. This is one way in which working (for free) at Chez Panisse changed my life. I learned an invaluable lesson: all you need to make fantastic food is really fresh food, some lemon, a lot of salt and copious amounts of good olive oil. That's basically it. That's all you need.

Recently, my affection for olive oil has turned into a sort of obsession. Every time I trail (try out for a job) at a restaurant I sneak into the pantry when no one is looking and write down all the brand names I see. Below, I have summarized the results of my research. Most of these are available at any decent super market, and all of the oils listed are great values, because restaurants hate spending money on food far more than you ever will.

Oleificio Chianti - Produced by Alice Water's ex husband, Stephen Singer, this is the work-horse oil at Chez Panisse. It's only 40% extra virgin which makes it heat resistant. Ideal for sautéing and roasting, it also makes fantastic aiolis and vinaigrettes, where using all extra virgin produces an overly bitter or peppery flavor. Singer also makes a great finishing extra virgin olive oil.

Frantoia – I love this one. I love the green-gold color. I love the grassy buttery flavor and given how good it is, I love the price. You can usually find a liter of for about 25 bucks, which is steal when you consider how good your food will taste. You can find Frantoia at pantries all around town. I've seen it on the shelves at L'Artusi, Esca and Centro Vinotecca

Olave – This is a favorite of April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig. Produced with organic olives grown and pressed in Chile, this olive oil has wonderful, round mouth feel. The flavor starts off clean and grassy and moves to an aggressive peppery finish – which makes sense if you've ever eaten the food at the Spotted Pig. The price is great too; expect to spend about 20 bucks for a liter.

Monini – It's pretty good and it's dirt cheap. I first saw this oil while staging at Convivio and expected to find myself paying a hefty amount of cash for a bottle. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a liter for a mere 13 bucks. This is my olive oil of choice until I get a job.

Agrumato – This olive oil is really expensive and it tastes freaking incredible. The secret here lies in the process. Rather than infusing the oil, Argumato presses the olives and citrus together. The result is hard to express. The taste and aroma of Argumato oils is redolent of citrus in way that I didn't think was possible. The company makes a few different flavors. The tangerine and lemon varities are my personal favorites. You'll find Argumato all around town, everywhere from L'Artusi to WD-50.


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