Hours: Sun.-Sat. 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m., and 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Prices: Starters $6-12; entrées $21-33
Atmosphere: Contemporary, clubby
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Designated sections
Airport. Hotel. Food. Need we say that these are not words -- at least not together -- to speed the heart of the foodie. Even at their best, hotel restaurants target corporate competence, not inspired invention.
But when the Hyatt Hotel opened at Pittsburgh International Airport -- it's actually in the middle of the parking lot -- a few years back, its restaurant promised something more. Located in an arc-shaped, contemporary space off the hotel lobby, Olive Press features a menu that isn't exactly original, but neither is it rote. For instance, we found a surprising emphasis on seafood dishes, representing more than half the entrées, and only a couple of nods to that expense-account staple, steak. We sat up. We took note.
Our first appetizer, calamari frito -- that would be fried -- is certainly ubiquitous wherever you might fly these days. But Olive Press's version was light, with an almost fluffy, tempura-like batter that was still crisp. The spicy tomato-aioli dip was deliciously creamy, herbal and astringent, although it arrived with a darkened surface that betrayed that it had sat out prior to serving. We encountered a few small missteps like this -- another was cold bread -- suggesting a kitchen that perhaps placed efficiency ahead of perfection.
And yet Jason's wild mushroom crespelles -- Italian crepes -- did approach perfection. A sweet, slightly tart wine reduction enlivened the rich, velvety mascarpone sauce; but despite the sauce's intense flavor, the blend of wild mushrooms within the crespelles still defined the taste of the dish.
Angelique's entrée, seafood ensemble, was also superb. The basic idea -- shellfish in a cream sauce over pasta -- is common enough. But here, the kitchen enriched the sauce with roasted tomatoes, then finished the dish with fresh grape tomatoes. The result was succulent shellfish -- the scallops, in particular, like buttah -- in a sauce that was both rich and lively with layered flavors.
All evidence being that he was headed for a great meal, Jason eagerly anticipated his osso bucco with root vegetables and fingerling potatoes. Alas, the first bite of vegetable was a letdown; celery is not a root vegetable, and the julienne preparation left the stringy exterior unfortunately intact. Further disappointment ensued when he put his fork into the meat and encountered resistance. Fork-tenderness is the sine qua non of osso bucco, and Olive Press' failed. The meat of the veal shank consists of several muscles, and some of these were well cooked (although none were falling apart). But one was so firm it called for a steak knife, an implement that osso bucco should never require. The concentrated, wine-based sauce was delicious, albeit greasy.
The meal did come to a happy ending. Chocolate lava cake, accompanied by a sliced strawberry and whipped cream, had a deep, dark cocoa flavor and a moist, dense, yet supple texture somewhere between that of a custard and a fudge brownie. Best of all was a striping of crème Anglaise and strawberry purée alongside, flavors strong enough to stand alongside the cake.
Much of our experience at Olive Press was enjoyable, even remarkable, with good service in an attractive dining room and some truly excellent food. But at these prices, the kitchen's missteps were hard to forgive. On the other hand, next time you find yourself out airport way, you should know that you can do a whole lot better than fast food.