March 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Olives Mediterranean makeover up and running in Roseville

Diners may choose three items from a list of 15 and put together their own combination plates. )

After a couple of decades serving a basic American menu to a loyal following, the proprietors of Sajo's Restaurant in Roseville decided a complete makeover was in order.

Part of the reason was that one of the La Shish restaurants closed just up the street, and there was a need to fill the void. So Sajo's became Olives Mediterranean in the free-standing building just south of Macomb Mall.

The space was handsomely renovated inside and out, with a dusky mirrored cocktail lounge with a ceiling veiled by swoops of silky fabric, and a lighter dining room with chandeliers with black prisms and more of the tenting effect overhead. Banquettes were reupholstered and a few well-chosen Mideastern artifacts added to set the scene for the menu that puts an emphasis on Lebanon.

It's a complete transformation, but although the "grand opening" is scheduled for next Monday, Olives has been up and running for several months. The event will be more a celebration of the fact that the neighborhood has enthusiastically responded to the changes.

It's traditional that restaurants with a mideastern spin offer generous portions, and Olives is no exception, even though it has a more sophisticated atmosphere and a briefer menu, interspersed with such American dishes as Angus beef burgers and New York strip steaks along with a couple of Italian selections such as chicken Marsala and fettuccine Alfredo.

Most of the menu, however, follows the Mideastern theme. Chicken shawarma — strips of marinated, charbroiled chicken — is particularly good: very tender and cooked just to the point of doneness so that it is still juicy. It is served with a light, silky garlic sauce and the good house rice pilaf, preferable to the fries, another alternative.

Also among standout dishes is shish kafta, sausage-like rolls of spiced ground lamb, and lentil spinach soup, a more delicate cross between a puree and a whole lentil version.

Diners may choose three items from a list of 15 and put together their own combination plates with, say, baked kibee, shish kafta and stuffed grape leaves, or shish kabob, stuffed cabbage and falafel. It is a nice option at $17.99.

Salads, on two occasions, were disappointing, with an undistinguished mix of lettuces, cucumber and red cabbage in a virtually tasteless vinaigrette dressing, not at all the fresh mix that should be expected of a Mediterranean restaurant.

Scoring much better were hommus, the mashed chick pea spread, that included a sprinkling of whole chick peas on top, and baba ghanouge, charred eggplant with sesame oil, garlic and lemon to be scooped up with pita bread.

Prices at Olives are gentle across the board, including the wines and cocktails from the bar, and service is friendly and efficient, adding up to a good experience.

Proprietor Jim Sage and his family also have a second restaurant, Sajo's, in Clinton Township.

(313) 222-1475

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