Attention foodie fans of Ibiza, the acclaimed High Street restaurant that abrupty closed this spring: Chef Manuel Romero is back.
Romero (pictured) returns as both head chef and co-owner of Olea (emphasis on the “O”), offering Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine with a fusion-forward emphasis, all part of an evolving trend in culinary globalization. The restaurant derives its name from the Latin word “Oleaceae,” a genus of trees, most notably olive trees, native to the Mediterranean.
Olea had its first day of business and grand opening last Wednesday. Some staff will be familiar to diners who frequented Ibiza, though some of the food will look new. Chef Romero said he is excited about a more polished menu that will have more Mediterranean and other-world flavors, including from North Africa and Italy, as well as Spain. At present, the menu offers eight appetizers and several weekly specials among its entrees.
“Every chef that loves cooking dreams of becoming owner” said Romero. Together with partner Maria González, Romero is now living that dream as he continues to build on the strong legacy established by the former Ibiza.
Chef Romero, who came to New Haven from New York in the aftermath of 9/11, worked at Ibiza for years as sous chef before becoming its head chef around five years ago. Romero said he loves New Haven and believes it to be one of the best “foodie” cities in all of Connecticut. (That assessment may be a bit understated in the wake of Livibility.com’s “best places” online blog, which designated New Haven as the nation’s number-one foodie city in 2014.)
Ibiza was one of the pioneers in New Haven’s gastronomic revolution. Its reputation, burnished by Chef Romero and some of the staff who made it all work, are part of the new team at Olea.
Hosts exuded an air of excited confidence as customers entered Olea’s modernist interior on opening night. Dan González, Maria’s son, displayed his mixologist chops at the bar, blending a host of specialty drinks including the namesake signature drink, the “Olea”—a mix of Irish whiskey, strawberry shrub, apple cider vinegar, simple syrup, sugar and cava. Watch Juan Carlos Gonzalez mix the “Nathan Cocktail” in this CT Drinks, Drink of the Week feature here.
A clean-lined facade of brick and wood has not changed at the High Street eatery, located steps away from the Yale Center for British Art. Above the entrance, however, is a new, minimalist sign created by graphic designer Rebecca Martz. Its “Futura Light” fonts signal the sophisticated and elegant decor inside. Groupings of mid-century, modern pendant lamps by George Nelson are sculptural and warmly ambient, complementing existing textures, flowing curves, and other architectural elements. Two dining sections, while different in ambiance, are both spacious and comfortable; the restaurant’s overall vibe is upscale, but not stuffy.
Martz, who attended the opening, also designed the Olea website, where diners can find restaurant hours and view a changing menu that adjusts for both local and seasonal availability.
In today’s world of celebrity chefdom, Romero has remained humble and focused: “I try to enjoy myself in the kitchen and try to make the people working with me happy, beside making a living.” Romero said he retains the passion and dedication that has always informed his work: “I give 100 percent of capacity whether working for myself or for someone else. I am lucky that I work at what I love to do.”