Impatient diners, or those who eschew the increasingly popular community table, may want to steer clear of this bakery-cum-pizzeria at peak business hours. At Milo and Olive, the fourth Zoe Nathan-Josh Loeb joint to spring up in the span of five years, the seat quantity feels remarkably finite, the space a bit cramped. There are only two 8-person community tables and 8 spots at the bar, after all. Once past the seating configuration, however, or if you’re lucky enough to snag one of the select stools at the counter, it’s hard not to be charmed by the wood-fired dishes emerging from the open kitchen.
Like hardcovers aligned neatly on a bookshelf, Nathan and Loeb have planted each of their restaurants on the straight of Wilshire Boulevard, with their homemade ice cream shop nearby, still resting within the Santa Monica zip code. Despite the close proximity, nevertheless, the couple has done a fine job distinguishing each endeavor from the next. Rustic Canyon, their shared-plates wine bar, was the pioneer, which made way for their indie darling, brunch and bakery hot spot, Huckleberry. Then came the artisan ice cream shop, Sweet Rose Creamery, and at last, Milo and Olive.
When arriving for dinner, the bakery section of Milo and Olive, gleaming with glazed maple walnut sticky buns and numerous whole wheat pastries—raspberry muffins, monstrous croissants, chocolate chip cookies—will taunt you as you shift by the door, waiting for a seat to become available. This is your cue to order a bottle off of the reasonably priced wine list and sip your jammy red by the entryway counter top.
Once you get to it, the food feels personal and unpretentious. The unassuming radicchio salad springs to life with the aid of salty capers, blistered to an airy crisp. The wood fired garlic knot, a fist-sized pouch delicately scorched on its exterior and stuffed with garlic confit, is a thing of beauty. Its richness will trick the palate into believing there’s more to the filling than garlic stewing in its own flavor—surely there must be béchamel or mozzarella folded into the dough—but your waiter will insist it’s simply confit. There’s gnocchi and rigatti too. Along with branzino crudo and chicken meatballs. But the pizzas may be why you’re there. The crusts, slightly charred and chewy, with the subtle flavor of smoke embedded in the minor bruises, are the perfect backdrop to pungent toppings such as pork belly sausage, prosciutto and summer squash. On the mixed mushroom pie, the entire surface is dusted with a snowfall of parmigiano reggiano. Any pizza can be enhanced with a farm egg, a golden centerpiece wonderfully complicating the texture of the pie. The deceivingly simple margherita, with rounds of fresh mozzarella under swirls of tomato sauce and carefully arranged leaves of whole basil, will be the reason you return.
The staff seamlessly fits into the equation, approachable and pleasant. It makes you think that Nathan and Loeb are most likely the type of people you could share a drink with as well. That is, if they ever had a moment’s rest from building their Westside empire.
Milo and Olive, 2723 Wilshire Boulevard Santa Monica, CA 90403. (310) 453-6776.