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Written By Scott Joseph On December 7, 2009

First, let’s start with the question most people have when they see the name: What the hell is an Olv?olv

The answer is it’s anything you want it to be because, in fact, it isn’t anything. It is not a real word, it is not short for anything, it isn’t an acronym and it doesn’t translate to another language.

For reasons of full disclosure and to give further explanation, I was invited to take part in a menu tasting while this concept was still in development. The tasting was held during the afternoon in the now defunct Manuel’s on the 28th, to give you an idea of how long ago that was. (Manny Garcia and company were consulting on the Olv project.)

Olv’s owner, Humberto Perez, was very excited about his new restaurant and was very particular about what he wanted it to be. When he told me the name he intended to put on the restaurant, I told him, in the nicest way I could, that the name stinks. He explained he wanted a word that didn’t have any prior meaning so that his cafe would not be hampered by preconceived notions. He wanted people to eventually associate the experience they had at the cafe with the name, perhaps creating something new for the lexicon along with a cafe. His argument was that no one knew what a Starbuck’s was until it became associated with a coffee bar. I told him that millions of people named Starbuck might disagree.

(I didn’t tell him that a better argument could be found in Haagen-Dazs, which is also a made-up name that has come to be associated with premium ice cream. But Haagen-Dazs is fun to say; Olv is not.)

After nearly four years of planning, Perez finally opened Olv in the SoDo plaza on South Orange Avenue in August. It’s an attractive space featuring touches of stone, polished wood, a partial ceiling with twinkling lights, and a back bar that is a glass wall with hidden televisions that can be seen only when turned on.

There are a few tables with conventional cafe seating but also several club chairs for lounging. (There is free wi-fi.) A sizable wine bar dominates one side of the room, but on none of my visits was anyone seated there.

Don’t look to the menu to give any clues of identity. I found nothing on the lunch or dinner menus that presented itself as anything that might remotely be construed as a signature dish, or even something the kitchen might be particularly proud of. The noontime menu has an array of sandwiches; dinner has flatbreads and such items as tuna tartare, crab cakes, diver scallops and marinated salmon. But take notice that most items are listed under the heading “small plates,” more of a tapas concept.

I first visited Olv for dinner and left rather underwhelmed. Even though it had been open a couple of months at that point, the cafe’s staff seemed confused, and much of the menu, my guest and I were told, was not available. We shared a duck confit flatbread with boursin cheese and a syrupy balsamic drizzle on a somewhat soggy crust.

Service on that visit was surprisingly inadequate. I would guess our server had never waited tables before, and I mean up to and including that moment.

Service was better on a more recent lunch visit though still not polished or beyond basic skills.

Food was better, too. I selected the char grilled burger with bacon and cheese and requested it be prepared medium-rare. It was medium, but it was a good-sized patty on a fresh bun. Some seasonings in the meat mix could add some flavor.

My lunch guest chose the French dip, which featured thinly sliced roast beef and swiss cheese on a fresh and soft roll. Also rather bland without the jus dipping sauce.

Both were served with house-made chips, which were very good. The other alternative was grapes. Grapes!? They didn’t sound alluring enough to steer me toward more healthful dining.

I still think the name Olv stinks, although I appreciate that Perez wants his customers to associate it with his cafe’s identity. But he needs to push them in the right direction, give them something to associate the name with. Starbuck’s is coffee; Haagen-Dazs is ice cream. Nothing is unique here, and nothing presents itself as a possible brand.

A better marketing plan would be to tell the customer what you are and then let them think they figured it out themselves.

Olv is at 25 W. Crystal Lake Crystal Lake St., Orlando, in the SoDo complex off of Orange Avenue just north of Michigan Street. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-722-5060 and the Web site is olvcafe.com.

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