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Olio e Limone is the standout star of Santa Barbara's Italian cuisine scene and, much to the delight of their patrons and local foodies, owners Alberto and Elaine Morello introduced sister restaurant Olio Pizzeria this week. This is major news for our relatively small town that's big on [good] food!
The casual enoteca and bar is tucked into the back of Victoria Court and sits next door to the original restaurant. The warm, inviting space is much larger than you'd expect from the exterior of the unassuming entrance. High ceilings, yellow washed walls, rich woods, multi-colored Italian glass light fixtures and stonework details create a cozy atmosphere. Even on the "soft" opening night, the bar seats were full and clearly will become the most coveted seats in the house with views of the wood-fired pizza oven.
The menu is vast and varied, offering several pizzas along with salads, meats, cheeses and other contorni - "veggies and side dishes," as the fun, text-filled placemats translated for us. The helpful Italian food glossary and other key phrases encourage Italian speaking and, if you're not familiar with the language, let you figure out some of the mystery ingredients on the menu for yourself.
My dinner companion and I shared a half carafe of the Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec, one of the many local wines on their list. The carafe option presents a nice compromise to ordering by the glass and committing to a whole bottle - I'm falling for this place already!
In the spirit of sampling, we split two refreshing salads that complemented each other well: a salad of blood orange, fennel and olives and a simple preparation of artichoke with shaved parmesan and lemon. Both were drizzled with the Olio e Limone extra virgin organic olive oil, produced by the Morellos with olives sourced from Alberto's hometown in Sicily.
We couldn't decide between the margherita pizza or the quattro formaggi, so we put the deciding into the hands of our very helpful server, who did not hesitate to steer us towards the quattro formaggi. (Full disclosure: I'm a vegetarian, so that narrowed our choices, but I still had plenty to choose from.) And he did right by us. It was a cheese lover's dream. In one bite you could taste the smokiness of the mozzarella, and in the next bite detect the veins of blue in the gorgonzola. We had no problem polishing off the perfectly-sized pizza - not overwhelming for one and just right for two.
The grand finale of my inaugural Olio Pizzeria meal was the panacotta with chocolate and hazelnut dessert. Craving a hint of chocolate, it was love at first bite.
Olio Pizzeria is located at 11 West Victoria Street, between State Street and Chapala Street, in Suite 21. They are open for lunch Monday-Saturday and dinner daily. Take-out pizza orders are welcomed.
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