Monday, December 5, 2011
Santa Monica based restaurateurs Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry and Sweet Rose Creamery have opened their latest outpost in their burgeoning Santa Monica constellation, Milo & Olive. The restaurant, named for their one year old son, first opened two weeks ago serving breakfast and pastries and began serving pizza this past Thursday. The close proximity of the restaurants is reminiscent of Danny Meyer's collection of restaurants from Union Square to Madison Square Park in Manhattan. The chef is Evan Funke, who still helms Rustic Canyon, but is at Milo & Olive full time as it gets off the ground.
In addition to pizza, the menu contains sections for "veggies and grains", fish, meat and salads. The restaurant only has two eight seat communal tables and an eight seat bar that faces the kitchen, so be prepared to sit with others. On Sunday evening there was already a wait for a table and takeout, so this is not a hidden find.
Free Range Chicken Meatballs from the meat section of the menu are served in a roasted tomato sauce with arugula on top. The chicken meatballs are moist and flavorful but the secret weapon in this dish is the tomato sauce. It is spicy in the best way, with a pleasing ting to it but not a blow your tastebuds effect. I sopped up the remaining sauce with some of the pizza crust. If Milo & Olive bottled this sauce, I would buy it.
Chef Funke recently came back from a three week trip to Italy where he tried thirty pizzas as well as dozens of other dishes. One thing he learned was that in pastas that do not use cheese, bread crumbs are often used to the same effect. Funke applied this technique to his Fusilli with eggplant, black olives, sweet peppers and toasted bread crumbs. The bread crumbs act almost as an aged parmesan, providing a textural contrast to the pasta. The fusilli noodles themselves were the longest I have ever eaten. The pasta, a long curlicue, is like a rotini on steroids in that the length can be a foot long, and the curls trap the sauce within them, ensuring every bite has depth of flavor.
The reason for coming to Milo & Olive for dinner is the pizzas. Funke said that not only each region, but often each town would have its own style of pizza making, and as such he has not sought to emulate any particular style but rather make his own sui generis type. His pizzas cook for approximately eight minutes in the oven; these are not the 90 second quick cooking with intense heat pies. Arugula, farm egg and anchovies can be added to any pizza for a small surcharge. When presented with the option of a farm egg, it behooves a diner to take advantage.
The Margherita pizza ($14) (above) was made with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil, olive oil, sea salt and the aforementioned egg. The egg was runny, which made for good spreading across the pie. The crust held up with no limp center to the slices. The sauce was less spicy than the marinara used on the chicken meatballs and the cheese was lightly sprinkled on top. This is a pizza pie I can recommend and is my new favorite west of the 405. As a bonus, the restaurant is open until 11 pm seven nights a week, which is a boon to the neighborhood.
Note that there is no signage, so look for the line of hungry people and a blue oven you can see through the plate glass windows.
Milo & Olive: 2723 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica. Phone: 310.453.6776. Website: miloandolive.com