Friday, December 2, 2011

First Thoughts: Milo + Olive

Similar to the hullabaloo surrounding Short Order's opening a few weeks back, locals seemed to be feverishly clamoring for Milo + Olive. And understandably so. Anyone who lives in Santa Monica or has spent any time in the beachside community knows fully well the area is plagued by a catastrophic pizza dearth. Outside of Joe's, a brief flash of brilliance at 31Ten (which, sadly, has passed) and the recently opened Stella Rossa (which, for the record, I am not the biggest fan), one has a better chance catching a wave than a solid pie. However, many believed, that would all change with the announcement of Milo + Olive. On the surface, it appeared like a homerun. A pizza place from the owners of Rustic Canyon (arguably Santa Monica's best all-around restaurant), Huckleberry (SM's best brunch and pastry shop) and Sweet Rose Creamery (purveyors of the city's most superior scoop)! On top of that, one of LA's most celebrated chefs, Rustic Canyon's Evan Funke, would watchover the kitchen's opening. So you got great ownership, your experienced manager, your star player (pizza) all set. HAS TO BE A HOMERUN!

Well, U.E. is happy to report, in sticking with incredibly cheesy baseball analogies, M+O is a fucking grandslam.

THE SPACE: Located in the former Marina Pastries space at the corner of Harvard and Wilshire, this is not prime Santa Monica real estate. In fact, until recently, one of its neighbors was a Harry Potter collectibles store. I shit you not. That said, they've done great work with what they were given. Like a foodie peep show, the beautiful and inviting all glass front wall coupled with an open kitchen invites pedestrians to peek into the restaurant's doings at all hours. The interior itself is very modern and bright with some exposed wood and beams. Rightfully asserted by LA Weekly, like most great pizzerias, the centerpiece of Milo + Olive is the dark turquoise pizza oven. Everything else is simply an accouterment... My only complaint about the space is its size. It is not big. Two communal tables and a bar.  That's it. Although the restaurant continues to publicly state they see always saw themselves just as much a to-go destination than as a dine-in, I don't think the customers will agree. Like a Mozza or a Sotto, when you are paying $15 plus for a personal pizza, you want to eat it there, fresh. The size of Milo + Olive simply prohibits this.

THE STAFF: As a former host and busboy, it is strange I almost never comment on a restaurant's service. I probably just give restaurants the benefit of the doubt. For example, the hecticness of Short Order a few weeks back could best be described as somewhat utter chaos. But, I reasoned, it is Night Two. So... arriving at a packed Milo + Olive on their first night serving dinner (they have only been open for breakfast for two weeks), I expected much the same. But, like owners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan deftly do at their other popular restaurants, they found a way to keep my friends and I content despite the crammed space (due to the cold outside, almost all waiting patrons were jammed in the restaurants entrance ramp). First, an offering of fresh, delectable arancini balls. This slight touch, as well as a very personable hostess and a strong beer selection made the hour wait blow by.

THE APPETIZERS: The grand service continued almost immediately upon seating when the waitress brought over not one, but two complimentary Fried Local Squid plates (with crispy lemon and a salsa verde dipping sauce) courtesy of the chef. Expertly fried, it was a great appetizer to start off our meal. However, that didn't stop us from ordering a few more. One friend started with the Arugula & Radicchio salad, a perfect blend of strong arugula and radicchio, shaved fennel, pan-fried capers and Parmigiano Reggiano topped with a Caesar-like anchovy dressing. Then the four of us proceeded to split two orders of the Crostini. Seemingly stacked a mile high with sheep's milk ricotta complimented by the perfect touch of sea salt and load of EVOO atop Nathan's famed bread, the Crostini will not soon be forgotten. 

THE PIZZA: Your restaurant can be beautiful. Your staff cordial. Your appetizers delicious. But, U.E. braved Milo + Olive's inaugural dinner service for one reason: the fucking pizza. Since there were four of us, we each ordered our own and through a highly confusing barter system, we were all able to at least try a bite or two of each other's pizzas. Let's start with the weakest of the four - easily the "Crispy Pepperoni." Although you could hardly see any sauce hiding under the fresh mozzarella, the pizza is simply too tomatoey. You can barely taste the pepperoni. Scaling back the sauce a tad would really improve this pie. That said, we still ate it all. The same can be said for the three stars of the night: the Mixed Mushroom, Roasted Potato and Butternut Squash. Although almost every spot in town offers a fancy mushroom pizza nowadays, the M+O offering stuck out due to its freshness. It tasted like it came from the Farmer's Market that morning. The thyme on the 'za also elevated it. Like mushroom pizzas, you can get a Roasted Potato all over town, but no where is it better. Often I find the potato too thickly or thinly sliced -- not here. The combination of the potato, Parmigiano Reggiano and a rosemary cream sauce made this one hell of a pizza. And then there was the Butternut Squash, which can only be described as beautiful. A beautiful pizza pie. Cubed squash, fresh mozzarella, brown butter and a FARM EGG! All atop a delicious caramelized onion agradolce sauce. I hope the taste remnants never leave my tongue. And like the other pies, the Squash pizza came with Mozza-like dough. The sort of pizza dough that people who don't even like pizza dough eat. Flaky and bubbly, yet tough, definitely worth building a restaurant around.

THE CONCLUSION: Even though it was merely the first night of dinner service, U.E. can very confidently state Milo + Olive unequivocally makes Santa Monica's best pizza.

SECOND CONCLUSION: Maybe order it to-go and eat on the curb out front for now because this place is going to be blowing up like 4th of July during their initial few weeks/months.


  1. I just drooled on my desk.

  2. Those look like $15 pizzas, and I'm okay with that. That crostini though, I'm going to have dreams about that tonight. Can't wait to try it!

  3. This place rocks. I live right up the street, so takeout is the way to go for me. But I was pleased to see they were dealing with people dining in with the same grace and efficiency they do at their other establishments.

    BTW, if you get another chance, be sure to try the sausage pizza. I felt exactly the same about the crispy pepproni (good, not great) but the sausage blew my mind. It's a step above the Stella Rossa version.

    Anyway, great review -- you really nailed this pace. Can't wait to try that squash pizza!

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