Downtown Santa Barbara’s State Street is known for it’s delicious restaurants. Every chance I’ve had to stop in the area and well before I began writing here, I’ve dined downtown and have yet to find a restaurant that I haven’t fallen in love with. Just off State on West Victoria, Olio Pizzeria welcomed our family earlier this year for an Italian dinner experience that we’re still talking about today.
Olio Pizzeria’s® causal concept pizza bar/wine bar/full bar was inspired by the myriad neighborhood pizzerie and enoteche (wine bars) found around the corner from just about every piazza in Italy. This idea began to take shape before we even opened Olio e Limone Ristorante, our fine dining restaurant next door, in 1999. Olio Pizzeria® is a casual place set in Santa Barbara, CA with an emphasis on simple, delicious everyday artisanal Italian food served in a convivial casual environment, drawing inspiration from all of Italy’s regions.
It’s no secret that I’m a pizza addict. As much as I try to order unique items at new places, my fallback comfort food is always going to be pizza. I really couldn’t pass up trying Olio. It was a cool Saturday night in beautiful Santa Barbara, the restaurant was packed. We arrived well before our reservation and still had to wait about 20 minutes, but walking into the building and to our table we were overwhelmed with wonderful aromas emanating from the kitchen. My husband and I both began with a cocktail and a glass of wine, a refreshing starter that reminded me of a Mai Tai then a 2008 Primitivo Zinfandel, spicy and delicious my tastebuds were ready. We were both allowed to order off the menu as well as the host delivering some specialties to our table. Arriving first was the locale salad, organic greens, cherry tomatoes tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. Next was a pizza bread with herbs, garlic, and sea salt, and baked meatballs in a marinara that was “lick-the-dish” delicious! Leftover sauce (if it exists) can be used to dip the bread, oh so good! We had our oldest daughter with us on this trip and she is often a picky eater. The beginning dishes of the evening were right up her alley, and she even suggested we make meatballs at home more often, a great sign! Out next was something that we did not order, nor did we expect. The looks on our faces were priceless, of complete shock I’d have to say.Calamari al Nero is the official name, calamari fried in squid ink was more descriptive and easier to understand. The black portions of tubes and tentacles were nothing I’ve ever seen before. Slightly off-putting visually I am honest in saying I wasn’t eager to try this. My husband was braver than I and the crunch of his first bite was undeniable. He was amazed at the freshness of the calamari and the intriguing outer texture. He vowed this was the best seafood he’s ever eaten. I tried it after a generous squeeze of lemon and was pleasantly surprised, it was incredible! You can’t just a book by it’s cover with this dish, the color of the blue-black squid ink is only that…color, despite it looking like it was burnt to a crisp. The lemon aioli was a bright addition for dipping, definitely something I’d order again!Boscaiola pizza was brought out next, and I grinned ear to ear. Mushrooms, sausage, fresh mozzarella just made for pizza perfection after a hearty sprinkling of chili flakes! The crust held up on each slice but was thin enough so not too filling. Families will be happy to know that even the pickiest of eaters and pizza snobs in the household have plain noodles with butter and parmesan cheese easily made to please!We heard dessert was on the way, so we made sure to stop and take most of the pizza to go, boy was it good cold the next day for lunch! I only wish we had about 30 more minutes to digest but out came the first of two sweets, Budino Di Zucchero Di Canna or butterscotch pudding with a caramel sauce. Butterscotch pudding reminds me of my youth, pudding cups in my lunch pail that had that comforting feeling. This was a pudding cup all-grown-up! The silky texture of the pudding and sauce together on your tongue will make you groan with pleasure, yet it wasn’t overly sweet like the name may imply. I was afraid it wouldn’t hold up overnight, otherwise I would have taken the rest to go as well. Finally, a classic Italian dessert Cannoli Di Ricotta was presented to us. My first cannoli, it was a chocolate chip pastry filled with cream, drizzled with chocolate, and topped with ground pistachios. This was rich and almost too much for my taste buds to handle. I love the pistachio and chocolate combination but I’ve never really been a fan of ricotta. The presentation was beautiful, but this just didn’t hit the mark with me, my husband really enjoyed it, but luckily there is a variety of other desserts to choose from next time!
Our meal may have been hosted (minus gratuity and alcohol), but my honest views have been expressed. We would dine at Olio Pizzeria in Santa Barbara again tonight if we weren’t 4 hours away. We would come just for drinks. We would come just for pizza, we would come just for dessert. This night was an indulgence and then some. Despite their packed house, our server never forgot us in the back corner and always made sure we were okay and our glasses were full. Southern Californians will be happy to learn that there is also a second location in Westlake Village in the Conejo Valley!
For more information, visit www.oliopizzeria.com and to make reservations!