137 Ibn Gvirol
“I dream about food every night,” confesses Rami as he taps his foot rapidly against the bar stool.
“Every night,?” I ask, with curiosity and a hint of jealousy. “I wish,” responds Rami, with a sad look in his eyes. On this note, I could tell that Chef Rami and I are cut from the same cloth: gypsy souls with Persian roots, lovers of humanity, and nightly food dreamers. My food dreams stem solely from my insatiable appetite, while his serve as inspirations for nightly specials at Olivery. I guess dishes as inspired as creamy beet risotto sprinkled with Roquefort cheese and finished with a sprig of sage– are the recipes of dreamers.
With his nails bitten down to the cuticle, the constant foot tapping, and a subtle stutter, Rami’s anxious anticipation for creativity emanates from every morsel of his being. Born into a Persian family, Rami’s traditional father and free spirited mother raised him with all the fundamentals of rich Persian Jewish culture; an emphasis on hospitality, strong work ethic, preeminent business skills, and a creative spirit. There are qualities that resonated from my own Persian upbringing; his father successfully owned his own business for over 40 years , friends were always invited to eat glorious Shabbat dinners at his house, and his first memories of food were of cleaning and separating dill, coriander, and parsley for his mom when she made polo sabzi (green rice). His father owned a successful fruit and vegetable stand in Shuk Hatzitomiyi and when I mention the link between his dad working with food all his life and he doing the same, Rami is quick to brush it off. Yet, there is no doubt that when you grow up surrounded by the scents of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, those aromas become ingrained in your system and blend into your bloodstream- certainly making it easier to “dream about food every night.”
Rami combines all these qualities passed on to him from his culture with his free spirit and a propensity for constant movement. It’s the gypsy in him that had him live in thirteen different countries in a span of six years, Thailand, Amsterdam, Miami, Switzerland, and Australia are just some of the places that Rami has had the opportunity to call his “home” since he began travelling at the age of seventeen. In each country he took intense culinary courses, intimately learning the culinary technique and range of flavors and spices in each place.
His first love affair with cooking began as a teenager when he worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant. The fast paced, hectic, and creative components of working in a kitchen resonated with his anxious personality and he asked the chef to teach him the ropes. Rami then began to learn all the fundamentals of cooking through other cooks and basic courses. Once he got the basics down his appetite to learn the details of culinary technique in different cultures went rampant. Finally, when he got an offer to live in Italy and study Italian cuisine for six months in order to run Olivery’s kitchen, Rami couldn’t turn it down.
After his intense study of Italian cuisine in Rome, Tuscany and Sicily, Rami created the kitchen at Olivery and designed the menu based on true Italian classics and dishes that represent the multifarious Italian cuisine. The pizzas are modeled after Neapolitan dough, the pastas are reminiscent of Roman classics, and rich and creamy risottos come from deep Northern Italian techniques, precisely cooking the risotto slightly al dente.
What’s most prominent in Rami’s culinary style is his courage, Rami doesn’t shy away from flavor. His theory is, if I’m going to add it to a dish, I want you to taste it. For this reason, the main ingredients shine in his dishes. The four fungi pappardelle pasta exemplifies Rami’s style- One of the few dishes I’ve tried that truly glorifies the brawny, rugged flavors of mushroom. Portobello, champignon, porcini, and tartufo mushrooms are blended with slightly sweet, slightly starchy homemade pappardelle and tossed with a luscious cream sauce. All the pasta at Olivery is made from scratch, therefore they never sacrifice quality. The four varieties of mushrooms play off each other to bring a well rounded earthy yet refined taste. Although I usually steer clear of cream sauces, the sauce in this dish is so soft and delicate that it graciously enhances the dish, allowing the other ingredients to sing.
Rami’s quirky intelligence, his creativity and an eye for beauty is captured in a dish like the asparagus pizza. The asparagus pizza comes to your table with the whole asparagus in a stunning starburst shape. Paired with fresh tomatoes, ham, Parmesan, mozzarella and a bit of egg yolk, this dish is both aesthetically pleasing and incredibly appetizing. The same feeling is captured in the spinach pizza, thick spinach sauce paired with freshly diced tomatoes, goat cheese, mozzarella and olives. The colors alone are simply outstanding, playing off one another in playful elegance. Yet the unique expression in the dish, proves the although not classically trained, Rami has all the qualities of a seasoned chef, and many other qualities that you can’t learn in school.
The playful side of his cooking comes out in dishes such as the banana pizza. The thin pizza crust is topped with caramelized bananas and a vanilla mascarpone sauce. The crunchy, savory pizza crust, combined with the sweet bananas and the slightly creamy, slightly tangy sauce is food fantasy come true. Whether is a main course or dessert there are dishes on the menu that are full of surprises to the palette. The attitude toward food, taking it seriously, yet simultaneously being frivolous is Rami’s strength.
Perhaps this is where Rami has an edge, he understands that the school of life is the best school of all and his desire for learning and growing only increases with age. He hopes to live in Italy again for a longer period of time to learn the techniques and cuisines even more in depth. He says that Italian cuisine interests him the most because in his exact words, “I’ve never experienced a cuisine that is so simple and complicated at the same time.” The ingredients, Rami explains, are so simple, fresh, and respected, however the myriad of techniques and combinations are deeply complex, requiring a dishes to be created with mindfulness and true love.
The essence of everything that Rami and his staff encapsulates is perfectly captured in the atmosphere. Olivery is both simple and exquisite, it feels expansive, yet intimate, and it’s very quietly dramatic. The high ceilings, beige walls, touches of olive green, and light wooden furniture provide a sense of Northern Italian countryside in a casual and welcoming atmosphere. Olivery is an ideal place to take your children and simultaneously a fitting place for a romantic date.
With a countless selections of Italian fare in the city, Olivery is truly a standout. The winning combination of a friendly, helpful and happy staff, unique, delectable dishes, and a soulful chef running the kitchen creates an pleasant environment to truly savor your meal. Rami’s loving spirit extends well beyond the kitchen. He ends our conversation that began with dreaming about food to bigger dreams of helping people. “That’s all I want to do in life,” Rami states, “help people, volunteer, and cook. if I could help people through cooking, that’s even better.”
Photos: Karen Cohen