Saturday, February 5, 2011

Olive & Thyme - It's About Time for Here-to-Stay Gourmet in Burbank's Bermuda Triangle

There's a vortex in Burbank around Warner Bros., Disney and NBC, roughly bordered by Olive, Alameda and Pass, where many ambitious food venues that dared venture seem to vanish quickly without a trace.  Exhibit A:  French 75, which became Savannah before disappearing forever.  Exhibit B:  Three generations of white linen, wine listed Italian restaurants that cycled through so quickly that no one even remembers any of their names, on the corner of Riverside and Kenwood.  Exhibit C:...Actually, maybe that was about it, at least in the last few years.  Gindi Thai, Arnie Morton's and Studio Cafe Magazzino are pretty much the only chic/more upscale/cute spots offering creative/finer/fresher fare, that have stood the test of time within walking distance of  the three studios in this pneumatic triangle.  Don Cuco's is great for the occasional lunch or happy hour, but a decidedly casual dining space with a delicious but fairly standard menu, and the thighs and waistlines of image-conscious studio folks can only handle so much Mexican over time.  Mo's has good salads and crazy good warm chocolate chip cookie dough pie, but is fast, casual fare that is relatively spendy, and falls just outside the triangle.  There's also Sweetsalt and Arde's Bistro, which I love, but also just 'out-of-bounds' - when you only have an hour for lunch and you're wearing heels - you'll lose a good chunk of both walking, or spend too much time driving over and circling for parking before you can even get in line to place your order.  There are some amazing eats on Tujunga and Ventura (not to mention Portos on Hollywood Way), of course, but all again outside the triangle.

Into this vortex, Olive & Thyme bravely dove headfirst on Tuesday this week.  As the immediate mob of studio and local folks converging upon the place - almost like survivors of Oceanic 815 upon their first discovery of edible fruit / marine life (or an all-engineer frat upon the rare new girl in class) - would attest, it seems like they have been waiting forever for Olive & Thyme to arrive.
In their first few days, Olive & Thyme's resident chef estimates they served hundreds per day at lunch, and the cozy space continued to be packed at dinner.

There is just something special about Olive & Thyme that has not been seen inside the triangle these last few years.  The cafe / marketplace has a decor that is clean, sleek and chic without being intimidating or at all pretentious - spacious yet cozy and intimate at the same time.  There are white marble countertops, a rustic wooden picnic-style communal table, a lovely center-island wine/beer/coffee bar, glass cases of freshly made salads, gourmet cheeses, charcuterie and fresh made desserts, and shelves of packaged gourmet goods from artisan chocolates, flavored marshmallows, cookies and butter waffles, to tins of imported toffee, to house branded jars of spices - it's our very own Joan's on Third, in the heart of studios central.  Top that all off with cute decor items for sale, like Tocca candles.
You feel instantly relaxed when you step into Olive & Thyme (crowds aside, as I was able to finally experience at dinnertime tonight when most studio employees have fled en masse back to their westside homes).  And owners Melina & Christian Davies (the nicest couple!) intend it to be a neighborhood hangout, a place that inspires and that locals who live to eat can love to come, versus a fueling station for utilitarian sustenance.

On the menu: many fresh salads (including farro with roasted beets and curried chicken salad), sandwiches, and soups, as well as breakfast items.  There are also blackboard specials and Intelligentsia poured coffee (!!!).  The Sulawesi poured coffee ($4.50) was a great way to kick off the evening for me.  Sitting at the marble-countertop bar allows you to get the 'show' - and as one-part of the hands-on owner-couple prepared the beverage, he explained that the coffee is slow-hand-poured, in two phases - first run to heat and release the aromas from the grind, second run to further hydrate and allow the liquids to overflow through to the pot below.

And all the effort pays off - the coffee was smooth, rich-bodied and fragrant, and best of all served in a soupbowl-sized mug (so European)!

All I have to say is, sorry, Starbucks loyalty program - but I've met someone else.

Earlier in the day, a coworker had recommended the Braised Short Rib sandwich ($13)  - which I did not get to try as the wait was too long - (45 minutes the last two days we tried).  So that was the first thing on my mind for food - besides the farro with roasted beets, which was unfortunately already sold out when I arrived.  The sandwich arrived on a branded wooden platter - with ever so tender and flavorful short rib, sweetened by caramlized onions, and a slight kick courtesy of a splash of horseradish creme fraiche.  Bookended by La Brea Bakery country sourdough.  Delicious with a side of cornichons and pickles.  Yes, $13 is more than I would normally pay for a sandwich, but it was braised short rib inside the triangle, dammit, and it was fresh, and good, and sizeable - I was stuffed after just the sandwich, as dinner.  And I would rather spend that amount on an Olive & Thyme sandwich than a run-of-the-mill burger from Mo's (yes they have a burger bar concept, but pretty much all the ingredients at the bar are standard fare).  I asked the chef what his favorite items on the menu were, and this sandwich is one of them.  The other is the Middle Eastern Chicken sandwich ($12) with hummus, harissa, tomatoes and aji sauce on grilled pita.  Would definitely return for lunch, especially as a treat for myself on more hectic days.

Though I was full, I couldn't leave without trying one of the treats from the visual smorgasboard that is the dessert counter at the far end of the bar.  And I was enjoying  conversation with the engaging / nice in a great laid back way Davies.  And they both have such interesting backgrounds - Melina worked for Warner Bros. on the Matrix movies, and co-produced Gothika, before deciding that she wanted to focus on her true passion, food!  Christian is a jetsetting accessories designer by day for Nike. 

But I digress - back to the food.  Since I was in the mood for something not overly sweet, Melina recommended the Durango Cookie or the Carrot Cake ($6), made from scratch daily by Valerie of Valerie Confections.  I went for both - the cookie for the nibs and toasted almonds (to go), and the carrot cake for the presentation and photo opp.
The carrot cake was good, with rounds of cake sandwiching a carrot spiked cream cheese center, topped by a dollop of cream cheese frosting and candied carrots - but I would have enjoyed it more if it was just a little lighter in texture and perhaps served warm. I also had my eye on a multi-layer berries n' cream cake, which I aim to try on my next visit.  And the mini chocolate bars.

By the time I finished my lovely dining experience, it was past closing time, but Melina / Christian and team did not at all try to hurry any of the remaining patrons - though they've had 12-16 hour days all week and I am sure ready to go home and crash out!  Their passion for their new business and goal to raise the bar on gourmet fare for the community are clear - they saw a need for higher quality eateries in their neighborhood, and went for it.  The two were constantly not only checking on their chef and the food, but also adjusting music levels to provide a nice audio backdrop while ensuring people were still able to enjoy their conversations, and of course checking on their guests all through the evening - if they were exhausted, as they should be, they didn't let it show.

It may only be the first week, but from what I can see, all signs point to Olive & Thyme being one of the rare few that will not be lost, but with every indication of being able to emerge victorious in the Burbank Triangle.  Personally I wish Melina & Christian's little new neighborhood gem enduring success!  If you live/work in Burbank and haven't been to Olive & Thyme yet...time to get up and go!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 7 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Olive & Thyme
4013 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake, CA 91505
Ph: 818.557.1560


Olive & Thyme on Urbanspoon


  1. I am officially in love! I love everything about it. Seriously. I am so grateful that there is finally a place like this in the valley. Thank you Davies!!

  2. Seriously, the place and the Davies are both lovely and amazing! :)

  3. Love this place, coffee is amazing.... :)



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