French cuisine paired with French olive basics

April 20, 2009
By

Photo by Andrea Mabry

Story by Emily Bell

Nestled in the bright colors and cobbled roads of Old Nice, Oliviera is a temple dedicated to olive oil. Nadim Beyrouti, a banker turned olive oil mastermind, treats all of his customers well and takes exceptional care to ensure that the best olives are picked to serve and sell in his restaurant.

Oliviera offers diners a rich blend of pastas, vegetables and cheese, each paired with a specially selected olive oil from one of the olive growers in the area. Beyrouti’s emphasis on olive oil is what makes Oliviera a gem among the string of cafes and restaurants found along the cobblestoned streets of Old Nice.

As he sat at home one evening, Beyrouti created a list of potential names for his new restaurant. He was reading a French comic book, The Adventures of Tintin, and the character of Oliveira struck him. He thought the name, with a slight change in spelling, would be the perfect name for his restaurant: Olive + Riviera=Oliviera.

Although Oliviera is hidden on a side street, at 8 bis rue du Collet, off the main street of Boulevard Jean Jaurës, a map of Nice and hunger will lead one right to its welcoming doors.

Because the restaurant is somewhat hidden among the side streets of Nice, Beyrouti claims his ability to speak English and attract the American customer has doubled his business.

Beyrouti speaks fluent English, as well as French, German and Italian.

When entering Oliviera, guests are greeted by a counter full of about thirteen large, silver olive oil decanters, with a small blackboard labeling each by name and price.

Beyrouti personally knows all of the producers of the fifteen different kinds of olives he buys.

“I like to know who does it, to know the trees,” he said.

After buying for nearly thirty years, Beyrouti buys only from small farmers, not wholesale because otherwise “the customer gets cheated,” he said. He even travels up the coast and inland to taste the new crop and buy oil from the small producers and farmers, sometimes staying in the producers’ homes.

Passionate advocates of good, local olive oil, Beyrouti and his family have been in the business for as long as he can remember. Eight years ago he opened Oliviera to share his knowledge of and enthusiasm for olives and cooking to the public.

“The idea is to make people taste olive oil – real olive oil,” said Beyrouti.

Throughout the meal at Oliviera, customers are presented with three different types of olive oils to taste, free of charge. Beyrouti explains where each one came from and why it tastes the way it does.

The first he presents is a typical variety from Nice from the Cailletier tree. It has a sweet and fruity almond taste and is yellowish in color.

While tasting each oil, Beyrouti tells the customer to soak a bite-size piece of bread in the olive oil. With the variety of olive oils from Nice, however, he believes it tastes just as good without the bread.

“It’s so fresh you can eat it with a spoon,” said Beyrouti.

The second olive oil is from the Bouteillan olive in the Provence Vaucluse department of the Provence region. Beyrouti refers to this particular oil as the “golfer’s oil” due to its strong aroma of a freshly mowed lawn. It has a slight banana flavor to it but is not as sweet as the first.

The third olive oil customers try is the Beaux de Provence, a blend of different varieties. This one tastes fruity but bitter. While all of the olive oils are tasty and fun to try, the real treat comes from Beyrouti’s original cooking of the oils.

“All of my recipes are invented in the morning,” he said. “I wake up and feel like, how should I have my meal or my salad?”

A new menu is printed up each day, with an array of starters, main dishes and desserts.

The menu features five starters of salads, vegetables and cheeses. Beyrouti’s prized possession on the starter menu is the aubergine Oliviera, an eggplant dish to be paired with the Bouteillan olive oil.

Approximately six main dishes are also offered daily. Each dish is paired with a specific olive oil. Beyrouti refers to the pesto linguini as “the best smell of the kitchen” because of the pesto and olive oil used in preparation of the dish. Other plates include cannelloni, rabbit, ravioli and lasagna.

Oliviera provides customers who desire dessert with two to three options. Beyrouti takes pride in his tarte au citron. A close friend hand-picked all the citrus fruits used to make this fruity indulgence.

The restaurant offers a wine list featuring common French wines. Although the list includes white, red and rosè wines, Beyrouti recommends a white wine to be paired with olive oil.

The lack of professional training does not show in his scrumptious dishes. Beyrouti said the kitchen is his school.
“I was born a cook,” Beyrouti said.

He adds that he believes anyone can cook. “Once you have the basics, you must create,” Beyrouti said.

Every meal is prepared to order by a staff of only two in an open kitchen with one gas burner and a broiler located in the back right corner of the restaurant. The small kitchen and only eight tables set up in the cozy restaurant provide a “homey” feeling to the customer.

Beyrouti even goes to the market each week to hand-pick the flowers placed in the center of each table.

After enjoying their meal, customers can purchase any one of Beyrouti’s oils to take home at 25 € a bottle, with the Nice variety being most popular. Beyrouti wants customers to purchase olive oil not as a souvenir, but to cook and experiment with at home.

He says olive oil is a much better gift than wine because the person will remember it, and it will last longer.

“I don’t like olive oil for tourists’ items, but on the table,” said Beyrouti. “The way it works is in the kitchen…add a drop here, you know.”

Oliviera is the perfect combination of quality olive oil from the French Mediterranean region and first-rate French cooking. While each dish is delicious, the real personality at Oliviera comes from the olive oil.

Oliviera is located at 8 bis rue du Collet. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and for lunch only on Sundays and Mondays. For more information call 04 93 13 06 45 or visit www.oliviera.com.