Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Elegance and hospitality in Norwood

What a surprise it was recently to discover Olivadi in Norwood’s quiet center after having only ever visited the town’s commercial Route 1 strip over the years.

The ample size of the venue and its extensive woodwork, windows, deck, private rooms, and large built-in cabinetry (for holding cutlery and wine elegantly) convey a sense of comfort and ease. So, too, did the presence of its owner, Anthony Delapa, who greeted guests on both my recent visits, and, on one occasion, hosted a large party himself as though the restaurant was his home and hospitality a matter of personal pride.

Olivadi has been through a couple chefs since it opened two years ago and seems to have settled into a good groove in March with the arrival of Chef William Lopez, the former chef at Newton’s Tartufo.

His vegetable minestrone ($6 dinner; $5 lunch) is a nice way to start. It’s a light, brothy rendition served in a pleasing square white bowl, atop a wooden tray, with pouty edges that beg to be sipped from. It was warming with bites from a breadbasket that held an assortment of the staff of life: inch-square hunks of foccacia; paper-thin, toasted shards with baked-on cheese; plain slices of an Italian boule. Along with the bread comes a small plate of a mild basil puree that works well when you mix it with the dollop of punchy tapanade at its center.

Thin slices of breaded eggplant rolled and stuffed with a mild ricotta-spinach mixture come two to an order of the eggplant involtini appetizer ($6 lunch). This is essentially eggplant parmesan at its delicate best and inspired plans for future lunches comprised only of several orders of it. The simple marinara it comes with has a lovely texture and balanced blend of acid and sweet flavors. In fact, it’s the sauce we would have liked to have had on Anthony’s Special pasta ($15) – a homemade rigatoni with a “spicy Calabrese tomato sauce” that was unappealingly thick and flat tasting, except for its heat (which was nice). The sauce may be a fond taste acquired in childhood, but misses entirely.

Still, there’s much to choose from here. The couple next to us at dinner raved about their pork tenderloin ($23) and chicken picata ($18), and the acoustics are so good in the spacious dining room, I could hear them at a short distance.

The sauce on the linguini that sides a special haddock, clams, and mussels dish ($25) is yet another red sauce that is more orange-colored from a bit of cream in it. It coats the pasta sparingly and is delicious. So, too, is the filet of haddock and the three small clams and six tiny mussels in their shells that fan out around the plate.

Servers follow pasta dishes to their guests and grate fresh parmesan in a snowy sprinkle: “Tell me when,” they say and we’re embarrassed by how long we let them grate.

There’s something about the flavor of nonna’s roast chicken ($17) that rattles an old memory: perhaps it is Delapa’s grandmother’s (nonna’s) recipe and close to something one of my aunts cooked. (The town of Olivadi where Delapa was born is only a few miles from the Southern Italian Calabrian village where my grandparents grew up.) It is two bone-in pieces covered in crispy skin that seem to have been doused with a very lemony sauce. It is actually sour, but good. Although the menu says the dish comes with carrots, onions, and mushrooms, mine has summer squash, zucchini, and good roasted potatoes.

The shrimp scampi over spaghettini ($16 dinner; $10 lunch) at lunch is a simple plate of spaghetti with a butter, lemon, and garlic sauce that never goes wrong when it’s done well, as it is here. Just fine, too, is the tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($11/20 dinner; $12 lunch) – the pasta cooked just right and the meaty sauce a touch sweet as it wants to be.

The thin, sour cream (crème fraiche?) and dill sauce that sides the pistachio and horseradish crusted salmon ($19 dinner; $13 lunch) is a smart reminder of that classic pairing. The lunch version of the dish came with a mass of great roasted, sliced beets and a small mesclun salad. And the lunch menu’s Tuscan chicken salad ($9 lunch) made flavorful mouthfuls of herbed, grilled chicken breast, fresh spinach, goat cheese, sliced red grapes, and candied walnuts.

Both desserts we had at Olivadi were gorgeous. The panna cotta ($7) is a silky smooth, molded pudding akin to a crème bruelee but made lighter with gelatin rather than egg yokes. Truly perfect, too, was the tortino ($7): two small cupcake-sized, moist, dark chocolate cakes served with fresh, homemade whipped cream.