Sunday, May 6, 2012

Milo & Olive 05/03/2012

2723 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 453-6776

Milo & Olive is the newest member in Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan's growing portfolio of restaurants in Santa Monica; joining Rustic Canyon, Sweet Rose and Huckleberry. The restaurant offers a versatile combination of fresh baked pastries and artisanal pizzeria augmented with a seasonally based menu. Like its sibling restaurants, Milo & Olive seems to have gotten a strong local following as evidenced by the constant line of people waiting to sit down for dinner. I heard about the restaurant awhile back but I doubt that I'd have bothered to visit if Walter Manzke wasn't running the kitchen.  

BRANZINO CEVICHE - fennel hearts, jalapeño, scallions, lime, sea salt
First up was a classic sea bass ceviche, the dense fleshy fish is seasoned with a marinade that presents a very balanced profile between the jalepeño and lime tinged with a delicate mintiness from the fennel heart.

MILO CHOPPED SALAD - little Gems, tomatoes, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, arugula, red wine vinaigrette
This was the first of many gifts the kitchen sent us. I tend to think of chopped salad as one of those tired appetizers every steakhouse has to serve, but this was actually surprisingly complex. The starchy heft of the chickpeas as well as the salty kick of the pepperoni helping to set the dish apart from the norm.

BABY BEETS - farro, roasted hazelnuts, feta cheese
Given how much Kevin and I loathe beets the only way would eat this dish was if it were free. The dish actually proved to be pretty good; the sour twang of the cheese moderating the inherent sweetness of the beets.

WOOD OVEN ROASTED PRAWNS - Fregula Sarda, cucumber, tomatoes, basil
I enjoyed the char and salinity of the prawns but the texture was a touch rubbery. I liked the bright succulence of the vegetables and the toothsome chew of the fregula in contrast to the dull texture of the prawns.

CHARCOAL ROASTED ASPARAGUS - green onions, romesco sauce
On the heels of the shrimp came one of my favorite dishes, and a vegetarian one at that. The asparagus and onion stalks were cooked to a melty tender texture and the sweet fragrance of the onion intertwined beautifully with the astringent flavor of the asparagus. The sauce adds a smoky rusticity and fitting weightiness to the vegetables.

CROSTINI - Bellwether Farms‘ ricotta, Meyer lemon, English peas, mint
Another really stellar vegetarian course, the combination of peas and mint play off each other beautifully while the ricotta provides a creamy textural base for the vegetables.

MARINATED ARTICHOKES - baby spinach, toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins, goat cheese
Like the beets, artichoke is something that I've never really enjoyed, but Manzke did a good job with this dish. The cheese and artichokes had a gentle tang but it was the robust flavor of the pine nuts and sugary raisins that stood out.

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT - extra virgin olive oil, sea salt (please allow 20 minutes)
The garlic knot is considered Milo & Olive's signature dish. The hollowed shell of bitter toasty bread hides a bounty of soft garlic cloves. I thought the garlic would be overly intense, but the flavor was actually quite mellow.

FREE RANGE CHICKEN MEATBALLS - roasted tomatoes, arugula, red onion
I hoped that the arugula would hold up but the nutty flavor was completely overwhelmed by the monolithic heartiness of the meatballs and tomato sauce. Tasty but overly simplistic.

CASARECCIA PASTA - asparagus, peas, sungold tomatoes, ricotta, basil
By this point my companions and I were already stuffed, but in a demonstration of sadistic generosity, the kitchen served up this gargantuan portion of pasta. The pasta felt a bit overly firm but I actually enjoyed the mild creamy cheese with the bright melange of vegetables; particularly the ripe tomatoes and fragrant basil.

CRISPY DUCK LEG - cara cara orange, medjool dates, almonds, bitter greens, agrodolce
The leg itself was falling-off-the-bone tender and the bird's savor is further augmented by a delectably crispy skin. The orange was a natural compliment though I found the honeyed sweetness of the dates a bit much.

SHRIMP - sun gold tomatoes, red onion, sicilian oregano
After a painful amount of food we finally get to the restaurant's specialty: the pizzas. The shrimp was yet another present. I liked the way the shellfish imparted a sweet salinity to the pizza, too bad they still felt a bit overdone for my tastes.

OREGON MORELS MUSHROOM - ramps, asparagus, mozzarella
The morel pizza was a seasonal special and we got the last one of the evening. The earty bite of the mushrooms is complimented by a bitterness from the asparagus; easily the most robust and impressive of the three pizzas.

MARGHERITA - fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil, sea salt
Margherita pizza often serves as a baseline when comparing pizzerias. While the flavors were spot on the crust wasn't quite what I was expecting. The crust lacked the expected bitterness and had a much more substantial crunch; an arguably more accessible combination than true Neopolitan pizza.

The pie was pretty classic, sweet creamy meringue, a bracing tang from the lemon and a heady buttery crust.

Our server described this as a grown-up PopTart but I thought that was selling the dish short. The combination of blueberry and blackberry made for an intensely jammy sweetness rendering the crust into more of a textural element.

I ended up visiting Milo & Olive after other plans fell through and I came away satisfied. The restaurant offers something for everyone, whether that's a fresh baked pastry for breakfast or a hearty bowl of pasta for dinner. The basic well executed fare was enjoyable but felt a bit simplistic for a chef of Manzke's talents.


David said...

Strong review and nice pix as usual.

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ said...

Great review. Never heard of nor been, actually. A great 1st read on your blog! :) Will be back. was looking for some French Laundry info and came across you!

Rodzilla said...

Everything but the margherita looks great. It looks burnt.