What the hell is happening to the stretch of Maryland Parkway south of Desert Inn Road? The lovably low-rent drag seems to be getting a fresh coat of paint. First one of Las Vegas’ most stalwart dive bars, Champagne’s Café, got a makeover by Bar Rescue’s Jon Taffer. Now the Boulevard Mall, which hasn’t been the gold standard of malls for decades, is in the midst of a major renovation. And from a food perspective, the latest hint of things to come for area mallrats is the upscale, seafood-heavy Mexican spot Olivia’s Latin Cuisine.
The restaurant is brought to us by Faviola Trujillo of Taco Y Taco, along with executive chef Robert Solano, who delighted diners at Downtown’s Mingo Kitchen & Lounge and the late Mundo in World Market Center. The menu at Olivia’s provides a more sophisticated take on Mexican cuisine than what’s widely available in our Valley. The modern monochromatic décor reflects that by providing a much nicer space than what you’ll find in most malls, let alone the Boulevard of a few years ago. And the location, adjacent to a mall entrance with valet parking (with a view of Champagne’s), is geared toward diners who want to skip the mall altogether.
You can tell from the first page of the menu—which is split between a collection of hot appetizers and a “cold bar” or “barra fria”—that this isn’t typical tourist Mexican. The apps include grilled octopus with golden raisins and chimichurri; beef tongue nachos; and grilled oysters with sautéed greens, jalapeño ginger aioli, chorizo and sweet chili glaze. That cold bar is also pretty impressive, with nine different ceviches and seafood cocktails, and three oyster presentations.
So far, my favorite dish at Olivia’s is a beautifully presented chili relleno. The large poblano pepper is stuffed with cubes of steak and potatoes and served open-face, with all of the ingredients on display.
Moving on to entrées, there’s an entire menu section dedicated to shrimp dishes. Two additional shrimp options appear in the main entrée section, which also boasts mixed seafood stew, paella, grilled swordfish, crispy bass and chili-crusted scallops. If you prefer something from the land, Olivia’s offers assorted chicken, beef, pork and tongue dishes.
What you won’t find on the main dinner menu, however, is tacos. That’s a bit surprising given Trujillo’s pedigree. But if you do want some, or a torta, you’ll find those on the lunch menu, available till 3 p.m.
So far, my favorite dish at Olivia’s is a beautifully presented chili relleno. The large poblano pepper is stuffed with cubes of steak and potatoes and served open-face, with all of the ingredients on display on the green pepper seated in a pool of dark red sauce, with the entire dish drizzled in crema. It’s more high-end than a typical relleno, and quite delicious.
I also really enjoyed a pair of appetizers. The ceviche tostada pairs well-balanced shrimp ceviche with large chunks of bright, fresh avocado and is served as a salad. It comes with three round fried tortillas meant to serve as a tostada base. But I preferred the ceviche itself. And a large bowl of steamed green-lip mussels comes in a complex roasted tomato and white wine sauce with chili flakes.
I wasn’t quite as impressed with the torta. I’ll admit that going with a Cubano in a Mexican place is probably asking for trouble. And while the ham and carnitas sandwich with pickled jalapeños, sweet whole grain mustard and Oaxaca cheese on distinctly not-Cuban bread wasn’t bad, something most certainly got lost in translation.
The largest problems I encountered here were a pair of entrées I sampled on the same day that suffered from exactly the same problem: too much salt. Both the 9-ounce ribeye and the scallops come with a chili pepper crust. And in both instances, the salt in the seasoning was so heavy it even drowned out the spice of those peppers. Which is a shame, because both proteins were excellently prepared. The steak was an exact medium-rare, as requested. And the scallops were just a shade from perfection: barely overcooked on the interior but still somewhat translucent, with nice caramelization on the outside. The seafood also came topped with a beautiful mixture of avocado and crunchy tortilla chips over a bed of rice studded with cilantro and corn. But neither succeeded in overcoming the salt. (The same goes for the otherwise excellent smoky tomatillo steak sauce that came with the ribeye.) These are dishes with excellent potential, prepared by a clearly skilled staff, but marred by simple overseasoning. Hopefully they’ll improve in the future.
While it’s still experiencing growing pains, Olivia’s already demonstrates a lot of potential and fills a gap in our anemic Mexican food scene. And with only one dish (the ribeye) above $20, it’s not too expensive to try out while it finds its way—provided that doesn’t take too long.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Ceviche tostada ($7)
- mussels in chili sauce ($10)
- and chili rellenos de bisteq ($15).
Olivia’s Latin Cuisine & Bar
Boulevard Mall, 702-307-1571. Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon-Thu, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fri, 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat and 4-11 p.m. Sun. Dinner for two, $35 -$70.