Different seasons call for different cuisines. Earlier this year, TRADE Marketplace added a couple of new eateries to its collection of restaurants and retail shops. Irvine Weekly dutifully reported on those eateries, Champion’s Curry and SmörBurgers, which were both highly satisfying! And while curry dishes and burgers are also great when the year gets colder, TRADE’s newest additions, OlyvOyl and Presotea, provide diners with even more eclectic options for satiating their winter palates. Naturally, we had to taste for ourselves.

OlyvOyl is a family-owned restaurant serving up authentic Mediterranean cuisine. Their recipes and cooking techniques were handed down by their ancestors to perfect the taste of the Levantine cuisine, dishes from the Levant region of the Middle East including Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Egypt. When we dropped by the restaurant to sample some of their items, we had a chance to speak with OlyvOyl’s owner, Basma Kaoud, who shared with us a bit about the company’s history in Irvine.

“When we started OlyvOyl, we started it back in 2016,” Kaoud told us. “Our first location, which is on Jeffrey, is the main location, which we started as a flatbreads place where we just do pizza flatbreads in a Mediterranean style [the TRADE location does not currently sell the flatbreads]. Then, throughout the year, the customers wanted more than just pizzas, especially for Mediterranean cuisine; they wanted more rice and meat and stuff like that. So we had a plan [that by] the end of the year, we’d start up this new menu where we introduced the kebabs and the rice and everything.”

Kaoud went on to point out how the Mediterranean cuisine at OlyvOyl is distinct from other Mediterranean restaurants. “Looking at the market, there are not many authentic — truly authentic — [places].” She elaborated, “The very popular ones out there are either Persian cuisine, Greek, Lebanese, but nothing that’s Syrian / Palestinian.”

In addition to a halal menu of traditional dishes from those regions and the particular varieties of spices, seeds and herbs which are used in the preparation of the food, Kaoud emphasized the freshness of all of the food served at OlyvOyl.

“About 95% of our food is [freshly] homemade,” she said. “5% is the fries or the kibbeh, which is our meatballs. It’s easier to just buy them ready from someone who does them homemade. Again, we have to find a homemade place. So, these are the only two items that are frozen. Everything else is fresh, made to order, prepared that day or the night before. But there is nothing that is frozen pre-cooked, or that sits in preservatives.”

As Kaoud had her staff prepare me a large plate with a variety of menu items, she pointed out how much she cared for the food and service at her restaurants. “What I wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t feed my kids, I wouldn’t offer to the public,” she said. “And that’s how I train my staff. I’m like, ‘Look at the plate before you give it out. If you wouldn’t like it, if it doesn’t look good enough for you to eat it, don’t give it out; fix it and then give it out.’ So it’s not about money and becoming rich. It’s about really offering something good to the community.”

OlyvOyl (Photo Credit: @eatwithnorma)

Next, I was handed a fully loaded plate. It included samples of the beef, lamb and chicken over rice. There was a side of hummus, a salad, and a piece of fresh pita bread. As if that wasn’t enough, I was also given a chicken shawarma, at which point I conceded that my diet would have to start the next day. The lamb was very good. The seasonings were not overpowering and gave the meat a delectable taste. The chicken and the beef were also good. I enjoyed them the most when used with the delicious, fresh pita to make little sandwiches, to which I also applied some of the hummus. The hummus, itself, was very rich with nuanced flavoring; it definitely stands out from any store-bought hummus I’ve had. Also, the side salad with fresh, crunchy croutons was excellent. Finally, I lifted the shawarma for the final tasting of the menu. I was pretty stuffed by this point, but the chicken shawarma was so juicy and flavorful that it made my body forget I was full. It was most delicious!

Now, the job being half done, I still had to get a boba fix over at Presotea. After a breather, I gathered my remaining strength and waddled over to the window, where I was greeted by Tina Ferrante, who opened this franchise with her husband, Vito. The story of Presotea began in Taiwan, in 2005, when the company founders wanted to discover a new way to enhance the flavor of traditional tea drinks. After a year of trial and error, Presotea opened its doors as the world’s first technological tea brewing company. Rather than brewing in bulk, they invented a high-end, espresso-style brewing technology that maintains the tea’s optimal flair and sweetness. Their tea experience begins at the farm, where they select high-quality tea from their Taiwanese plantations which have mastered the craft of tea growing for generations. With their high-pressure infusion technology and fresh tea leaves grown and picked from their very own tea gardens, they bring the freshness of the farm to every cup.

While Presotea currently has several locations in Southern California, this is the first in Irvine. Ferrante, who has a business background, explained how she and her husband came to choose this company from the many other boba tea companies.

“My husband and I love Boba drinks,” she said. “We’ve been drinking them for 20 years, and we’ve always wanted to open [a boba location]. But then, when we started our search a couple of years ago, we toured a lot of different franchises and we were just kind of shocked to see that a lot of places brewed tea in a large batch, and then they were stored in the fridge. And I remember there was this one franchise that told us that it could be stored in the fridge for up to five days. That was shocking to us. I don’t want to drink that, and I don’t want to serve customers that. So that’s why we got really diligent about trying to find a place that offered healthier, fresh options. And then we found this place where every single cup is brewed fresh.”

Photo courtesy of Presotea

She noted her commitment to the product by adding, “Even though it’s more expensive in terms of the equipment, the machines, and also the time that it takes to brew every individual cup fresh — so it’s hot to start out with, and then we have to go through the process of cooling it down — everything takes longer, but it’s fresh.”

Given that I was still pretty stuffed from my experience over at OlyvOyl, I knew I couldn’t handle one of the heavier choices, like a smoothie or a Thai tea. Furthermore, it would have been silly to waste an opportunity to taste one of Presotea’s proper tea drinks; I ordered an iced oolong tea with boba. Not being an iced tea kind of a guy normally, I didn’t know how to navigate the various options of sweetness that seasoned iced tea drinkers can choose from, so I deferred to my host’s recommendation. In short, it was delicious. I very much enjoyed the sweetness level, the richness of the oolong flavoring, and the boba was fresh as well, of course. Despite being stuffed, I was easily able to enjoy my refreshing boba beverage. Guests can select from a wide range of teas listed on their menu, including: Jasmine Green, Oolong, Genmaicha, Roasted Hojicha, A-Li Shan, Ceylon, and dozens more.

Photo courtesy of Presotea

In the near future, TRADE Marketplace will add Yomie Yogurt (a high-concept, global, handmade yogurt brand) and Tuk Tuk (a Thai street food concept with authentic Thailand dishes) to their dining area, but even now, diners have plenty of diverse and high-quality options waiting for them!

TRADE Marketplace is located at 2222 Michelson Drive, in Irvine. For more information, visit www.tradefoodhall.com