A new upscale Mexican restaurant has opened at 1233 Lincoln Road, west of Alton in the old Alta Mare space called, Olla. Pronounced, “oi-ya”, is a Spanish word for a pot usually made of clay and used to cook Mexican dishes. Olla is run by partners Aaron McKown and Celebrity Chef, Scott Linquist of Wynwood’s Coyo Taco. He also did another upscale Mexican restaurant in New York called Dos Caminos. Scott is passionate about Mexican food and he is committed to its authenticity here. The menu features diverse regional cuisine from Oaxaca, Yucatán, Veracruz and Puebla. The chef’s use modern techniques and global influences to create the menu.
The restaurant is very attractive with a total of 116 seats inside and outside. It’s a modern rustic atmosphere, with reclaimed wooden walls, concrete floors, dim lighting, warm colours of soft orange, grays and blue. Behind the bar is a mural painted by famous artist, Juan Manuel Rozas, who is inspired by the late Mexican artist Diego Rivera, you know … the guy married to Frida Kahlo.
The beverage program has artisanal spirits with lots of tequila and mezcal choices. There are margaritas, Mexican beers, and crafted cocktails.
We started with guacamole and they do a very fine job here with Haas avocados, mashed to order with chilies, tomatoes, cilantro, queso fresco and warm corn chips. They ask in advance how spicy you like it and then they bring it to the table, with a chunky consistency, just the way I like it. The guac is accompanied by four sauces ranging from mild to hot. But try not and fill up on this because it is SO easy. The menu is large and you will want to try and sample something from each category. We happened to come in a Sunday evening and that is the one day that they serve a brunch menu all day. It still has a ton of choices but is missing some meat and seafood selections. It does have a taro section, which means jars of various combinations. If you are brave you can try the grasshoppers with Marcona almonds, Persian cucumbers, avocado and Mexican chocolate. There is a crudo section, and a green section. I had one of the best salads of the year there, the Cortado Salad. It consists of chopped romaine, chicken, roasted corn, avocado, baby tomatoes, queso fresco, and roasted pistachios in a poblano green goddess dressing. It can serve three to four people as an appetizer. I could have eaten just this for dinner and been very happy. There is an egg section and we tried the chilaquiles, a lovely looking dish that has baked tortillas, fried eggs, cheese, and salsa verde. You can add a protein to this dish and we chose duck. The next section is called Olla meaning pots. We tried corn “truffles”, with a variety of wild mushrooms, toasted garlic, Chile de árbol, and queso fresco. The next section had masa, enchiladas, and mole. It was hard to make a decision but we went for the pulled chicken tamale. We also got some freshly made floor tortillas to go with these dishes, blue and white colored ones that were quickly replenished. I also wanted to try the coloradito, a duck breast with a sour cherry salsita with roasted pecans, roasted peanuts in a fruity nutty red mole. I saw this on the table next to ours and I was drooling. But honestly, how much can two people eat? Well … obviously, a lot. The sauces for these dishes are very complex and can have up to 30 ingredients in the sauce, from different chilies, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, Mexican chocolate and spices.
For dessert we tried a torrejas, they called it a Mexican French toast, but to me it was a churro with lots of sugar and cinnamon (too heavily sweetened for me) with sweet plantains, ice cream and whipped cream. This was not a light dinner, but it was a good one.
The chef is Robert Hernandez. He was friendly and very welcoming, and let me tour his pristine kitchen. Boy, it’s hot back there.
The manager Fernando was beyond friendly and helpful. He suggested shareable bowls and plates for a family-style experience. We were not rushed and I like that they continuously changed our plates and cutlery. They even provided serving spoons! No pet peeves here except one – when the bill comes they add an 18% gratuity. Then when they return with the credit card, there is a blank space for tip. This is a money grab to me. Many people don’t notice this, of course, and end up tipping twice or as I like to call it, “double dipping”. Shame on restaurants who do this.
Olla has only been open for two weeks as of writing this review and I think they are doing an excellent job here. They are open 7 days a week for dinner and lunch and late night as well as all-day Sunday brunch. This is an ambitious new spot focusing on quality, value, and fun.