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Getting Intimate with Milo & Olive

The Milo and Olive wood friend garlic knot. Photo Emily Hart RothMilo & Olive has been around for three years, but from the buzz inside you would think the hole-in-the-wall bakery and pizzeria on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica had just opened its doors. With just two large tables surrounded by chairs and a long bench, and bar seating overlooking the kitchen, about 30 lunchtime diners vie for a place at the tables and counters, where they sit beside and chat with strangers, off-line style.

Despite the din of patrons’ voices and clatter in the kitchen, the mood is relaxed, and of course intimate. Chef Erin Eastland smiles from the large open kitchen, greeting guests as they enter. Servers lean over customers, which can’t be helped in this small space, to deliver an assortment of fresh small plates, salads, pastas and wood fired pizzas to eager gA neighborhood place, Milo and Olive.  Photo Emily Hart Rothuests. It’s a happy place, and once you’ve sampled the menu, you know why.

The salads – like the daily beet salad special, are so fresh you taste the aroma before you take a bite. Likewise, the small plates are bursting with flavor, like the sautéed kale, pickled with fresno chili and garlic, that won over even a lukewarm kale eater like myself.

When they say “small plates,†they mean it; but it doesn’t mean you won’t get enough to eat. Something about a truly satisfying dish, like the potato gnocchi and market vegetables prepared with basil and walnut pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano, fulfills in taste what heaps of bland food could never satiate. And as the European-style shared-table seating inspires, the small plates are perfect for sharing among your party, so thaThe olive pizza.  Photo Emily Hart Rotht you can satisfy your appetite with a diverse sampling of several dishes.

While many of the exotic pizzas are tempting – such as the pork belly sausage pizza with escarole or the roasted eggplant and greens pizza with mascarpone — one of the most popular pizzas at Milo & Olive remains the staple crispy pepperoni, so covered with spicy slices of meat that it actually crunches.

Aside from their pizzas, the not-to-miss signature item at Milo & Olive is the wood fried garlic knot, a twisted soft bread ball soaked in extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Worth the extra 20 minutes it takes to prepare, this the ultimate garlic-lovers treat.

Other rustic bread and pastries offered include classic baguettes and country boules; green olive, lemon and thyme breads; three-cheese cheesebread; whole wheat potato bread; and homemade bagels. All are the creations of co-owner Zoe Nathan, who along with business partner Josh Loeb, who are together the team behind Santa Monica’s other restaurant gems Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry and the recently opened Sweet Rose Creamery ice cream shop.

The concept behind Milo & Olive is warm and inviting: a place where guests can come enjoy morning coffee and pastries or gather to dine with friends, or meet new ones, for lunch or dinner. The crowd is mostly local office workers during the weekdays, but weeknights and weekends guests drive in from across Los Angeles, or from as far as Paso Robles, as were a couple who shared our table for a late lunch.

Despite Milo & Olive’s popularity, they don’t take reservations, so prepare for a wait if you show up at busy times. Nobody gets special treatment for seating, but just like at the family table, if you don’t mind getting cozy, they will squeeze you in.

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