Oliva Tapas opens as part of Columbia University’s expansion in Harlem

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Harlem’s renaissance was significantly spurred by the opening by Columbia University of its sprawling Jerome L. Greene science center designed by Renzo Piano, with a much larger expansion planned to a 17-acre site stretching from the 129th to 133rd Street, with plans for 10,000 students to live in the neighborhood called Manhattanville. It should be noted that Columbia is not an intruder here: the school has always (since its founding in 1754) owned this land beside the Hudson River, and the changes, costing $ 6.3 billion. dollars, will make everything better in an area that, when I frequented Columbia in the 1970s, was a grim no man’s land.

All of these scientists, staff and students, as well as those who live in the neighborhood, will need a place to eat, and with Oliva opening last month, Harlem is getting a restaurant as innovative as spectacularly located in the glass-and-steel ground floor space at the Center. It is headed by veteran chef Franklin Becker, whose career I have followed for decades, and it is perhaps his best work to date.

Becker’s time in Spain inspired him to make a tapas restaurant and, believe me, no tapas place in Spain looks like Oliva. Becker’s menu stays pretty true to tradition, although you can see his creativity at work in every dish, and, to my delight, he gives his food more intense flavors and seasonings than I have. have even found in San Sebastian. tapas bars, where garlic and chili are not very present.

Of course, Becker, as well as chef Chris Strelnick, have nothing to do with unparalleled Spanish hams, other than slicing them very thinly, like the jamon de belotta and Iberian paleta by Cintas jotas ($ 36 and $ 21). Ditto for the range of cheeses (five to $ 20) such as Monte Enebro goat milk, oveja negra sheep’s milk and mahon curado cow milk. There’s of course the expected toast soaked in olive oil and fresh tomato ($ 5), a must-have at every Basque table, and the tuna-stuffed peppers ($ 8) are plump and juicy. Caballa crudo ($ 12) is raw mackerel, dressed in tangy blood orange, olive oil with a hint of jalapeño. Montaditos (two for $ 10) are wonderful little pies made with a variety of ingredients.

The hot dishes, a little more generous than the cold ones, are very satisfying, starting with the irresistible ham croquettes golden and crispy fries, salted with ham and oozing bechamel sauce ($ 8). Bacalao (Cod) croquettes are served with a luscious aioli, while an assortment of setas (mushrooms) arrive smelling of rosemary and garlic, with the flavor of shallots ($ 12). Grilled octopus has now become a staple everywhere in New York City, and Becker’s, with potatoes, sweet peppers, and sweet onions ($ 26), is certainly worthy of a main course, with the added visual appeal of ‘be served on a hook called a espetada.

Another Spanish classic, Gambas al ajillo ($ 14) is a must-have, with good meaty shrimp in a rich, sizzling garlic bath. Socarrat is the highly desirable rice crust that forms at the bottom of the Paella casserole, and in Oliva it appears as a main ingredient with seafood, a tasty sofrito and aioli ($ 45 for two), while another classic, fidejos, pasta thin like angel hair cooked like Paella, is made with crab meat in pieces cooked in wine ($ 21). Pollo con salsa pimiento Marcona ($ 16) is a surprisingly rich dish of succulent chicken that’s absorbed a pepper sauce enriched with almonds, and if you’re craving beef, you’ll love the churrascos will snatch Hanger steak with assertive Cabrales blue cheese and sautéed onion.

For dessert, fat but very light churros the donuts ($ 10) are dusted with sugar, which you dip in hot dark chocolate. Catalan cream ($ 10), which the menu calls “the original crème brûlée,” is true to shape, while the chocolate cremoso the olive oil pie has a salty edge with almonds and caramelized toast ($ 10).

It’s a capital idea at Oliva to start with a craft cocktail or a house sangria, or maybe a Spanish beer. But the wine list is impressive and extensive, replete with an array of regional bottles not easily found elsewhere, although it’s not easy to find much under $ 75.

While savoring this colorful and beautifully composed food, you can’t help but look up and down and around the glassed-in space that overlooks Broadway. It’s a great place to watch West Harlem’s inevitable and exciting transformation.

OLIVA

Manhattanville Market

3227 Broadway

817-522-9830

Oliva is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

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