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First Look: Anchovies & Olives

Many of you might look at that title and think, "First Look?", but yes, for me, it was the first look.  I know Anchovies & Olives (A&O) has been open for over a year.  And it’s been on my list (of places to try) for that entire time but sometimes it just takes me awhile.  M and I finally rectified the situation on Friday. 
We arrived at 4:30 after an afternoon at SAMM only to find A&O doesn’t open until 5:00.  Although I understand the rationale I really wish places would open by 4:00 on Fridays.  I mean, how can you reward yourself for a work-week well done and skip out a little early if there’s no place to skip to?  That’s a minor nit but I know there are many times that affects where I spend my dining/drinking dollars on a Friday night.  But back to the point. 
We arrived before they were open so strolled down to The Online Coffee Company for a cup of tea and then returned to arrive right at opening time.  I think one other person made it through the doors before we did.  We settled in at the small bar. If you’ve been to How to Cook a Wolf, another of Ethan Stowell’s locations this is another small and intimate space.  It seems a little larger than Wolf because of the layout but I bet both spots seat close to the same number of people.  In other words, it’s probably often hard to get a seat here.  The feel of the place is totally different, though.  Wolf had lots of soft curves and wooden surfaces while A&O is much more angular and metallic. The custom concrete (I think) bar, the tables all have a metal feel.  Not that it’s sterile in any way – the surfaces feel burnished and warm – but the space seemed more au courant than Wolf. 
The bar, with about eight seats, and the open kitchen line the back wall.  Tables run the length of the windows at the front of the room.  Between the kitchen and the window tables is a large prep island.  I didn’t look at it closely but I noticed the evening’s cheeses set out and I had the impression of menus, serving pieces and other finishing ingredients placed around the work surface. 
From 5:00 to 6:00 each evening is A&O’s "Power Hour".  Oysters on the half-shell are $1 (instead of $3), Prosecco is half off at $5 and there are also $5 white and red wine options.  Rounding out the Power Hour deals, Peroni is $2. 
We started with glasses of Prosecco and a few of the night’s special oysters.  On Friday they were Kumamotos topped with a cumin ice.  The oysters were chilled, exceptionally plump and super-fresh.  There was just a hint of cumin in the ice so it didn’t cover the briny oyster taste.  Sometime in the future I’ll make a meal just of the oysters!
But Friday we wanted to try a few more things.  We had a hard time deciding what would be next – the menu is full of delicious and intriguing options – but we finally settled on sea scallops.  They were seared and served with a side salad of radishes, celery, preserved lemon, green onions and more.  The salad was spring incarnate and I loved the tart hit from the preserved lemons! (I made a note to myself on this use of the lemons since I recently made a couple batches of them.)  The scallop preparation made me remember why I love scallops so much.  These were simply and perfectly grilled with a nice crispy crust and an amazingly succulent interior.  I know that grilling scallops is really not that hard and many places make decent grilled scallops but these were really perfectly prepared. 
Amazingly enough between the oysters and the scallops we were starting to be satiated.  When food is so perfectly prepared it seems it only takes a little to satisfy.  But we decided to take a look at the dessert menu to see if there might be a sweet ending for our meal.  I remember a couple of items that seemed interesting but both of us focused in on the cheese plate at the same time.  Sold!  Friday’s cheese was Fiore Sardo, a Sardinian version of Pecorino.  It’s a firm cheese, a little salty and a little nutty.  It was served with balsamic jelly – I need to learn to make this – and walnut bread from Columbia City Bakery.  Although mostly a savory dessert the balsamic jelly and the walnut bread added hints of sweetness that brought this meal to a satisfactory ending.  The serving of cheese was so generous that we took more than half of it home.
While we were there a film crew came in and recorded some footage (nearly blinding us with lights in the process) for an upcoming Food Network show on Ethan Stowell.  They weren’t sure when it would air and I’ve already forgotten the name of the program so I guess that’s not much help! Even though the lights were a pain, the chef, bartender, a couple of servers and the film crew all came over and apologized for the lights, which was nice. 
The menu changes daily so these items may not be available when you visit or, more likely, they may be prepared differently taking advantage of whatever is fresh that day. 
Anchovies & Olives is a little farther east than most of Capitol Hill’s restaurant scene but it’s definitely worth the extra couple blocks to get there! 
Anchovies & Olives
1550 15th Ave
Capitol Hill

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