Dining With Denise Neil

Piccadilly replacement Two Olives mixes familiar and new

The black Angus filet at Two Olives is topped with french-fried onions and served with a side of roasted vegetables.
The black Angus filet at Two Olives is topped with french-fried onions and served with a side of roasted vegetables. The Wichita Eagle

They’ve been cooking for Wichita for decades, and we know their food well.

But somehow, Joumana and Randa Toubia – the sisters of the father of Wichita’s fine dining scene, the late Antoine Toubia – have managed to do something that feels new with their latest endeavor, Two Olives.

Though the menu still offers many of their trademark Lebanese dishes, recognizable from past Toubia family restaurants like Piccadilly Grill and Olive Tree Bistro, they’ve modernized the presentation and added some dishes with Asian, Mexican and American flair, and they’re focusing on responsibly sourced ingredients like non-GMO and antibiotic-free chicken and Kansas-raised beef.

The restaurant opened in September and was intended as an updated replacement for Piccadilly Grill, which closed in September 2015 at 7728 E. Central after 28 years. The move was necessitated because Piccadilly’s landlord wanted to offer the land to Sprouts Farmers Market, which opened January. The former Piccadilly building was razed to make way.

Appropriately, the sisters chose the former Chelsea’s space in Comotara Center to open their new business. Chelsea’s closed in 2009 after Latour Management, which Antoine Toubia founded to oversee his once large local restaurant chain, was evicted from the space. They also had Olive Tree and a banquet center there.

The space had other tenants off and on until the sisters got it back once Piccadilly closed, and they gutted and remodeled the former Chelsea’s space for Two Olives. They also started their banquet business back up next door, where they serve Sunday brunch.

The Toubia sisters did a stellar job with the remodel, which mixes the light-strung ceiling of Piccadilly with modern metal chairs and wooden tables.

Their new approach is a tad confusing: They call it “chef casual,” and they offer a menu of lighter lunch specials that must be ordered at the counter followed by a full-service dinner, with waiters who serve table side. When greeted by the cafeteria-style setup at the back of the restaurant, though, first-time customers aren’t sure what to do.

But once they figure it out, they’re in for a familiar – yet updated – treat.

▪ On the menu: Two Olives has two menus – one for lunch and a separate one for dinner. Lunch offers salads like Greek and fattouch with add ons like lamb kefta, fried kibbe and Pomegranate salmon. There are also two daily soups, a list of sandwiches that range from Greek lebneh on ciabatta to sweet pepper bacon sliders, and several “power bowls” – both cold (quinoa crunch made with quinoa tabouli, garbanzo beans and roasted vegetables) and hot (Mexi-Cali made with brown rice, black beans, chicken and avocado.) It also has a couple of pasta bowls, including a pad Thai, as well as salmon and steak from the grill.

The dinner menu adds an array of appetizers and small plate dishes. The sandwiches are gone and there are more steak, lamb and salmon options.

Two Olives also has a full bar that mixes up a list of inventive cocktails and digestifs plus dessert drinks like Brandy Alexanders, mudslides and affogatos.

▪ Don’t-miss dishes: Though I applaud the variety on the menu, the Toubia sisters still are best at their Lebanese dishes. I loved the meshwi platter, which is offered as a sharable entree, either full-sized or half-sized. We ordered a half-size along with our other entree choices but wished we’d gotten the larger one. It was a beautifully plated sampler of favorites like shawarma chicken, lamb kefta, kibbe, tabuoli and hummus. The plate was finished with a little bowl of olives and pita bread. The chicken, served on skewers with grilled vegetables, had visible grill marks, and the meat was tender and full of juice. The lamb kefta had an exotic cinnamon flavor, and the kibbe was covered in a rich yogurt sauce. It was my dream Mediterranean platter, with all the things I like and none of the things I don’t (ahem, cabbage rolls.)

We also ordered, at our waiter’s suggestion, the black Angus filet of beef tenderloin. I’m always nervous when I order steak at a restaurant because I’m a medium rare girl, and although I hate to complain at restaurants, if it comes out anything but warm-red center, I send it back. I just can’t stomach paying that much (in this case, $27) for a meal I don’t love.

My plate arrived, and it was beautiful. The large piece of meat was piled high with french-fried onions and served with a side of haricot verts plus roasted carrots, potatoes and Brussels sprouts. But my fears were confirmed when I cut into the meat and found a light pink color and medium doneness.

Before the waiter whisked it away, my husband – who’s as firmly in the medium camp as I am in the medium rare camp – tasted the steak and declared it perfect. And the salty, seasoned crust on it was so flavorful, I probably could have survived it. But the staff promised to make it right. I could see head chef Randa in the kitchen with the cook, coaching him through the redo. It took longer than I would have liked to get my new steak back, but it was worth the wait.

My husband ordered the Mexi-Cali bowl, which is also available at lunch. It featured a piece of tender, chipotle-marinated chicken breast served alongside brown rice and black beans and topped with avocado, poblano-cilantro slaw and a yogurt dressing. It was fine, though pretty bland compared to my steak. It wanted salt, or even better, a bunch of salsa on top.

Before the meal, I had a small fattouch, and it was perfection. The fresh greens were coated in a light dressing, and the only other ingredients were sliced cucumbers and radishes, a couple of cherry tomatoes and crumbled pita. There were no pickles or feta on this fattouch, but it didn’t need them. The simplicity worked wonderfully.

We started with a smoked trout dip appetizer, whose creamy richness and smokey fishiness paired well together. The dish was served with a few rounds of toasted rye for dipping, but the dip was far more plentiful the dippers. The staff brought more bread, but I would have liked some veggies or pita to dip, too.

On a lunch visit, I tried Two Olives’ pad Thai with shrimp. It was a beautiful presentation, and the peanuts on top added a needed crunch, but it wasn’t as packed with Thai flavors and sauciness that Wichita’s Thai restaurants have made me accustomed to. We also tried the mezze kibbe bowl, which has many of the best features of the meshwi platter, including fattouch, kibbe, tabuoli, roasted vegetables and pine nuts. We liked it, we just wished the serving was bigger.

▪ Ambience: The dining room is gorgeous and features a high ceiling, all strung up with lights. It’s big and open, with a cement floor and metal chairs pushed up to wooden tables, which are all decorated with little fresh flower bouquets. There’s also a couple of display tables near the front that feature a few of the grocery-type items Piccadilly used to sell, from sauces and jams to cutting boards and cookbooks.

The restaurant also has revived the once-popular Chelsea’s patio, which is cozy and pretty. On one visit, we watched a lively private patio party unfold from inside.

▪ Price range: At lunch, sandwiches and bowls range from $7 to $9, and entrees are $15-$16. Dinner entrees range from $11 for a pasta dish to $27 for the filet.

▪ Service: Our waiter was professional and knowledgeable, though he made himself a bit scarce during the stressful steak redo.

If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327

Two Olives

Where: 2949 N. Rock Road, 316-681-1100

Type of food: Mediterranean, American

Alcohol: Full bar

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Full table service begins at 4:30 p.m.

Website: twooliveswichita.com