Olea - An unassuming spot is filled with subtle charm

By Josh Sens
June 2009 San Francisco Magazine


In his tiny open kitchen, chef Gabriel Amaya performs as an antishowman, eschewing grand productions for endearing little numbers: farmers' market-driven dishes that are slightly more ambitious than what you'ld try at home. On a recent evening, rose-stewed manila clams gave off the smoky heat of bacon, green garlic and Peruvian peppers. Paper-thin flat-bread, freshly bronzed in the fire, arrived undressed, its flattering toppings (ricotta, roasted pear, sauteed bitter greens) offered on the side.

Amaya clearly has imagination--witness roast duck drizzled with orange-and-star anise honey--but simple demonstrations, like a beautifully done burger with housemade aioli, will convince you that it's all about you, not him. The service is spot-on, and the strains of Edith Piaf in the small, spare space enhance the restaurant's sweetness. In an age when very little seems to be undiscovered, Olea makes you feel like you're stumbled on a find.