Once upon a time, Oliver’s was where you took your date when you wanted to impress her with history, opulence and decadent cuisine.
Now, the folks behind Oliver’s are looking to update that classic reputation, sourcing some of the best emerging Buffalo talent and giving the restaurant a significant makeover. Their objective, they told Step Out Buffalo, is to make Oliver’s not just one of the most head-turning local restaurants, but to make it into a destination that grabs attention on a national scale.
That ambitious goal got a big boost in April with the hiring of Ross Warhol, a local boy done good, with an impressive pedigree burnished through stints in some of Europe’s most forward-thinking kitchens.
In a recent phone interview, Warhol said his rise in the culinary world started right out of pastry school when he was able to secure a stagiaire, or culinary internship, at The French Laundry, named Best Restaurant in the World in 2003 and 2004 by Restaurant Magazine.
“From there it was just a snowball effect,” he said. “Once you’re in ‘the system’ of Michelin Star restaurants – you pretty much can go anywhere you want.”
While Warhol spent some time in the legendary Catalan kitchen of elBulli, it was his time at Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Sweden that currently holds the most sway over the way he directs Oliver’s kitchen.
“My time spent in Sweden is a big reason why I like to cook in the fall,” Warhol said. “The Nordic cuisine is based in simplicity and using the ingredients as the star. It’s not really protein-driven.”
During the interview, Warhol brought up something we’ve been hearing over and over again – that the focus in Buffalo’s culinary scene has begun to shift from restaurateurs who emphasize beautiful spaces to chefs who are primarily focused on creating plate-scale beauty.
Warhol said it’s this evolution that has drawn him back to Western New York, particularly “seeing everyone doing their thing finally, because the Buffalo diner and the community is wanting that now and understanding what a true culinary experience can be, or what good food can be.”
“I was living in Galveston, Texas for three years running a restaurant down there, and I wanted to get home because of what my friends were doing, Steve (Gedra) and James Roberts – just to see them being able to finally cook what they want and it being accepted.”
With generational customers still coming in for the refined classics they’ve loved for years, Warhol has kept Oliver’s main menu largely intact, adding a few tweaks or interpretations here and there. For instance, the former lobster and shrimp dish is now lobster and scallops with cauliflower pureé and watercress instead of spaghetti squash. The new dish also features purple sticky rice, a grain that doesn’t appear on many local menus.
For those who want a chef-driven menu, Warhol has launched Tasting Tuesdays, a weekly night where he gets to do his thing through a five- ($55) or seven-course ($75) tasting menu. Each week the menu is a rundown of projects the kitchen staff have been working on or maybe just something Warhol woke up Tuesday morning wanting to cook. On one recent Tuesday, the menu featured a hearts of palm sorbet and a frenched rack of rabbit – served with a cabbage roll, carrot pudding, oat crumble and black trumpet mushrooms.
Guests can also enjoy three different tiers of wine pairing with their tasting menu: Classic ($35 for five courses, $50 for seven courses) Adventurous ($55, $75) and Iconic ($100, $130). For these pairings, the restaurant will be opening some really rare, exceptional bottles.
The bar at Oliver’s will still continue to offer both classic and seasonal cocktails, as well as local beer on draft. However, it’s the impressive wine list that the eatery has been known for and it’s still going to be a big focus going forward under the stewardship of beverage director Brandon Ford, who is currently working toward the title of Advanced Sommelier, a title earned through The Court of Master Sommeliers.
“I try to source some of the hardest to find products, period,” Ford said about his wine list, which boasts around 500 selections. “We’re looking to have the best bottle of wine at any price point in any style that a guest wants. So, if you want to spend $40 or if you want to spend $1,000 – we want it to be the best, at that price point, for that guest.”
For those considering giving the new Oliver’s a fresh look, the restaurant is currently featuring half-priced bar plates Tuesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and all day on Sunday. It’s a great excuse to see what Chef Ross has been up to and get a handle on what he’s been doing with his dynamic tasting menu.
2095 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14216
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 11:30AM–2:30PM 5–11PM, Saturday 5–11PM, Sunday 4:30–9:30PM, Monday Closed