Olio Restaurant, off the beaten path in the Springdale section of Stamford, represents the epitome of a "hidden gem." Located in the space that formerly housed Bella Luna, chef/owner Steve Costanzo and his business partner Moira Hyland bring more than 36 years of experience to this underserved neighborhood. After two months, the residents are viewing Olio as their local culinary answer to downtown Stamford.
Costanzo graduated from the New York Restaurant School and worked in many area restaurants, including Baang, Long Ridge Tavern and Quattro Pazzi (as executive chef). Hyland is a graduate of the Chef's Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.The duo brings their passion and energy to create an eclectic and inviting menu and environment to their dream restaurant.
When I asked them what attracted them to this location, Hyland said, "When we first saw the location ... we fell in love with the layout and the fact that the open kitchen made the space so inviting and intimate."
The 50-seat interior was completely redecorated, and the result is an inviting space that is divided into two dining areas, with marble-topped tables separated by a long marble bar overlooking the kitchen. Exposed beams under the skylight add charm to the minimalist style of the space. The menu offers a diverse selection of pastas, meats, fish and poultry, with a strong Colombian influence from Costanzo's wife, Mayte.
Costanzo's talent was immediately apparent when I visited Olio one afternoon for lunch. The roasted and shredded pork torta (Mexican variety) with avocado, chipotle mayonnaise, roasted tomato and arugula, served on a ciabatta roll was impressive. The slow-roasted pork was delicious, moist and flavorful and the peppery arugula and the sweet, roasted tomato perfectly complemented the pork. The mayonnaise brought just a touch of spiciness.
This was my first taste of Costanzo's culinary talent and the reason that I returned to Olio for the other dishes.
My favorite appetizer was the barbecue spareribs. The ribs were first braised for almost two hours, and when they emerged from the moist braising process, they were finished with the miso soy barbecue sauce compriing raisins, star anise and plum wine. The "tower" included five ribs that were fall-off-the bone tender, full of flavor and smothered in Costanzo's sweet and succulent barbecue sauce (extra napkins required). The dish was garnished with sesame seeds and charred green onions.
Another delicious option was the wild mushroom crostini. Costanzo's recipe began with a duxelle of cremini and shitake mushrooms, to which he added diced caramelized cippolini onions and roasted garlic. When assembled, he melted a small amount of Taleggio cheese on top. Presented as a trio with the arugula and a touch of truffle oil, this dish presented great flavors and was a delightful way to begin the meal.
The seared sea scallops served atop a smoked cauliflower fondue and complemented with sweet and sour golden raisins was another excellent choice.
Olio's entrees feature house-made pastas, fish and several items that Costanzo slow roasts and braises.
The house-made ricotta gnocchi, served with lobster and finished in a brandy cream sauce, was my favorite entree. The gnocchi were delicious, with a light, soft texture; the lobster was perfectly cooked and Costanzo added a few sweet grape tomatoes to bring the various flavors together.
Another excellent choice was the beef short ribs with truffle mashed potatoes that were served with an ancho chili and tomato confit. The sauce exploded with flavors and the ribs were braised until they were fork tender, while maintaining their integrity. The sauce's flavor was enhanced by Costanzo's braising stock, which included plum tomatoes, veal stock, red wine, roasted red and poblano pepper, plus a touch of cinnamon. Overall, this dish delivered outstanding flavors throughout.
Save room for Costanzo and Hyland's special dessert, the cinnamon sugar-dusted doughnuts, served with a Nutella dipping sauce. The doughnuts were some of the moistest versions I have tasted, and when I asked the chef the secret to the incredible texture, he reluctantly told me, "ricotta." I expect that the doughnuts will become a staple at Olio with ever-changing sauce accompaniments being offered in addition to the Nutella.
After a few months, Costanzo and Hyland are pleased with the response from the guests and the neighborhood and they are excited about expanding the menu and developing a deeper relationship with all who enjoy their cuisine and hospitality.
"We love the neighborhood and all the support we have received from the community."
Olio Restaurant is at 934 Hope St., Stamford; 203-817-0303.