Location: Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, NV

Date of Visit: 05/14/2008, 09/26/2008, 11/07/2008

Here is what I know about Todd English: He is a celebrity chef. He is supposed to make a fantastic flatbread pizza (the secret ingredient in his Iron Chef showdown with Mario Batali was pizza dough). He has several chains of celebrity chef restaurants, one of which is Olives, the flagship of which is located in Boston.

Celebrity chef driven restaurants make me nervous. Wolfgang Puck has shown the phenomenal ability to cash in on his name by making everything from microwave meals to self-heating hot beverages, and I was not impressed by his lending his name to an Italian themed restaurant in Orlando I recently visited. I’m not sure where the line is drawn between a celebrity chef and simply a really famous chef, but Todd English is sufficiently famous that I had both high hopes and creeping fear on my first visit to Olives.

My fears were groundless. Olives is elegant, gracious, and consistently delicious. Meals start with a basket of cubes of bread, crusty on the outside but delicate within, served with an addictive olive spread in green and black. Flatbread pizzas live up to their reputation, with crisp crusts and innovative toppings. Go for lunch, when they feature the sweet potato flatbread (not always offered for dinner). Entrees, especially pastas, are balanced and full of flavor, rich without being overwhelming. Service is friendly, unobtrusive, and par for the course at a restaurant of this caliber.

As a bonus, the atmosphere in the Las Vegas Olives can’t be beat. The patio directly overlooks the famed Bellagio fountains with their musical display every 15 minutes. During lunch the view was absolutely spectacular – a great throng of people on the other side of the giant 8 acre lake waiting, expectantly, for the show – then rockets of water, dancing to music, shooting as high as 250 feet into the air. The best viewing point is probably the Olives patio, with a glass of wine and a hunk of crusty bread smeared with olive paste.

Recommended: Flatbreads – roasted pear, sweet potato, fig & prosciutto, butternut squash tortelli, braised short rib, pan roasted foie gras.

Price: $100 – $200 for 2, including beverage and gratuity

Rating: 5/5 bacon slices – I’d return, over and over.

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