The new Black

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Short North's galleries often turn the heads of passersby, but it's rare that a restaurant stirs a traffic jam of onlookers. At the corner of High Street and Buttles Avenue, Black Olive's looming windows and umbrella-crowned patio draw the eye inside.

Diners sit in angular chairs at white-linen tables. Gleaming wood-paneled walls present a collage of photographs with inlets for tiny vases. It's a hip, retro-'70s look. But despite its upscale appearance, Black Olive is surprisingly affordable.

It's the first foray into contemporary American fare for owner Dae Oh, the man behind sushi-centered Tyfoon in the Arena District and Shoku in Grandview. "I felt there was an oversaturation of Asian restaurants," Oh said.

The restaurant and bar opened in July with an inconsistent, limited menu, he admits. After changing executive chefs twice, Oh took reins in the kitchen and on the menu. Bringing his Asian-style techniques to distinctively Western dishes led to glowing fanfare.

Weekday $10 lunch specials and happy hour discounts -- like Monday's half-priced flatbread sandwiches or Thursday's half-off appetizers -- encourage newcomers to come pick up a fork. Those who venture into the menu will find fresh twists on old standbys, like Candied Walnut Chicken Salad ($10) or Jalapeno-Blue Cheese Stuffed Burgers ($12).

Dinner highlights are hearty, sushi-quality fish entrees like Crusted Tilapia ($22) or Citrus-Baked Sea Bass ($23), topped with a red pepper-mango salsa and partnered with Parmesan grits and sauteed spinach.

While the menu continues to be refined, Black Olive has kept up its strong arsenal of sippables. The granite bar area with mosaic wall tiling regularly hosts parched thirtysomethings. Curvaceous seats, spider-eyed light fixtures and plush orange walls create a visually engaging space for conversation.

At night, it's not uncommon to see chilled bottles of vino decorating tables. In addition to the bar's selection of 40-plus mid-range wines, they rep a decent rundown of Scotch, including golden oldies from Chivas and Lagavulin.

A name like Black Olive elicits visions of rim-garnished martinis -- and yes, you'll find them here. The Strawberry Basil Mojito and Hennessy Pomegranate Sidecar ($8) are favorites among the bar's dozen specialty drinks.

Mich Ultra drafts ($5) will please calorie-counters, while the bar's 10 other taps offer flavor-equipped options like Sam Adams, Long Hammer IPA and Peroni ($6.25).

Unless you plan to nestle up on a bar stool, reservations are recommend on weekends.

Black Olive

731 N. High St., Short North 614-298-8750