Dining establishments at Irvine Spectrum have come and gone (Fox Sports Grill, Rock Bottom Brewery, The Fish Market, etc.), but specialty shops appear to have a more lasting impression on patrons. Think Anthropologie, Vans and L'Occitane en Provence. While most storefronts are geared towards only men or solely women, the massive windows of 41 olive provide a fishbowl glimpse into a place anybody can appreciate. According to branch manager Malti Naran, even little children are game to taste testing; they also have strong opinions of what's good, too!
With a loft layout, entrants are exposed to all facets of the store from the moment they step inside. The majority of wall space is lined with dark cabinetry and an overhanging shelf. The row of metallic vessels, called fusti, not only decorate the room like a crown molding, but contain an array of imported vinegars and olive oils. Tasting cups and squares of bread entice curious appetites to sample the wares of 41 olive. I immediately gravitate towards the white truffle oil, an Italian treat containing no extracts; just a divine richness that almost makes one feel guilty for having. It is such an indulgence that it has its own pricing structure, but more on that later.
The idea for this particular shop came to Malti last year, while attending her son's graduation back East. She stumbled upon a place that enabled customers to purchase tasty elixirs that were bottled on the spot. No need to wonder how long an item had been sitting or how it tasted. It was a great find that she knew would work well, provided she found a captive audience who appreciated the culinary arts. Amid celebrity chefs, food trucks and diverse ethnic neighborhoods, they settled upon the family-oriented entertainment venue.
Flavors are as diverse as one can imagine, but the olive oils are placed into two distinct categories: varietals and infused flavors, and are arranged from mild to robust. While trying everything seemed ambitious, I sampled some unique-sounding tastes, specifically the dark chocolate and peach balsamic vinegars, made from white Trebbiano grapes. Their intensity from sipping them straight up was more than I expected, so switching back to olive oil was a perfect way to finish my tasting. At the pairing bar, they plan on holding private events for foodies looking to expand their horizons. One of their more popular flavors is the oil infused with herbs de Provence, prominently placed at one end of the bar.
Pricing for all flavors (minus the specialty salts and white truffle oil) are as follows: 375ml bottles are $17.99 and 750ml bottles are $29.99. White truffle oil has separate sizing: 60ml for $14.99 and 200ml for $29.99. Bottling, sealing and labeling occur while you wait, giving a personable feel you don't find in most stores.
During my visit, I spied a quartet of older gentlemen peering through the window, a mother-daughter team with bags in tow, a couple of college students, a young couple, and a mother and child all peruse or inquire about 41 olive's inventory. It looks as though their concept knows no bounds, or at the very least, is sparking curiosity with the home chef in all of us.