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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2004

Serve yourself well at Olive Tree Cafe

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Olive Tree cook Reyes Gutierrez shows off the souvlaki chicken sandwich.

Photos by Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertise

Olive Tree Cafe

4614 Kilauea Ave.


Credit cards not accepted; BYOB

Dinner: 5-10 p.m.


The ancient Greeks ate lots of bread, beans and olives. They also had plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in the summertime. During the winter, they would eat the apples they had stored, and the cheeses that were made in summer, along with lentils. And, of course, since the sea was nearby, there was an abundance of fish, squid and shellfish.

The Olive Tree is by no means a reflection of ancient Greece. It is a modern, hip and affordable cafe with a couple of twists.

It has outdoor dining, something more restaurants should offer, but no waiters: You place your order at a walk-up counter and wait until your order is ready. This can take some time, especially if you order several items.

This place gets packed early and feels a bit frenetic, especially in finding a table. If you allow yourself to calmly enter these waters, you can enjoy a nice meal of fast and yummy Greek food. Open up the bottle of wine you brought along and watch the people. At times, it feels like a sidewalk cafe in Athens.

Avgolemeno soup ($2.88) is the ubiquitous Greek egg-lemon soup, similar to egg drop soup, but with a lemony kick. It's a savory and refreshing way to begin. Two appetizers served with pita bread include hummus ($3.84), the creamy garbanzo-bean spread/dip, and baba ghanoush ($4.80), the roasted eggplant dip. This name is more the Arabic and Middle Eastern term for this dish, known in Greece as melitzanosalata. Either way, it's delicious.

Dolmadakia ($4.80) are stuffed grape leaves with rice and herbs. These can be quite addicting — a flavor that's a bit herbaceous and tangy. A slight departure from standard Greek cuisine but still a must-try is the mussel ceviche ($4.80) made with lime juice, ginger, cilantro and herbs. Order this app for sure.

The regular menu offers three luscious salads. Tabouleh ($4.80) is a cracked wheat, tomato, herbs and lemon creation; the Greek salad ($5.76) has mixed greens, tomato, feta cheese and olives; and the domata salata ($4.80) is a ripe, ruby red tomato salad with feta, olive oil and pita bread.

The menu is Greek with a few liberal interpretations added. The inexpensive Kahala dining spot has a devoted following.
Souvlaki are marinated and grilled kebabs, comprising the bulk of the regular menu's entrée offerings. Fresh fish and New Zealand lamb (each $9.60), and breast of chicken ($7.68) are the three choices, which are served with pita bread, tzatziki (a pungent sauce of cucumbers blended with yogurt, garlic and lemon), and a small side salad.

There's a shaorma ($8.64), a pita sandwich made with a spicy ground-lamb patty and served with a sesame-paste tahini sauce and salad. It's different from similarly named dishes, being ground instead of sliced off the spit. I suggest you skip the lamb burger and instead order the falafel sandwich ($6.72), which is a spiced mixture of mashed garbanzo beans, herbs and spices, shaped into balls and deep-fried.

You'll find specials throughout the week that have become quite popular. Tuesdays you can get the tender chicken saffron ($9.60) in a saffron-tomato sauce over basmati rice. Wednesdays bring lamb shanks ($14.40) baked with a red wine and tomato sauce over tiny Greek pasta. Thursday's offering is a baked and stuffed eggplant specialty ($9.60) called imam bayaldi (loosely translated, "so good your head'll fall off"), with a tomato sauce and sheep cheese. And Saturdays the spinach and cheese-stuffed filo pastry, spanakopita ($8.64), makes its appearance as the daily special.

The Olive Tree has a devoted following. If you're in the mood for something a bit different, both experientially and flavor wise, give it a try.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com with your comments, questions and suggestions.