Review: Pan D’Olive in Dogtown

While Pan D’Olive, the pan-Mediterranean restaurant housed in the former Mihalis Chophouse on McCausland Avenue, is not new (It opened in November 2012.), it is notable for a few reasons. First, there’s the affordability: Most entrees are in the mid-teens and no meze is over 10 bucks. And happy hour revelers can truly revel over the $3 select cocktails and house wines, $2 draft beers, $1 select small plates and half-price flatbreads. Then there is the space: sleek and stylish, with acres of dark wood, lots of subdued lighting and a spacious, multilevel layout, including the bar area with its illuminated bar top and striking mezzanine lounge.

Most notable, though: Pan D’Olive is Sam Kacar’s newest venture since closing his two Trattoria Branica restaurants and relinquishing the third to his ex-wife, who still operates the Italian eatery at its original Frontenac location. On the website, Kacar calls the cuisine at Pan D’Olive, “Mediterranean with a California twist … focused on the Greek and Turkish influences of the region.”

the bar at pan d'olive // photo by elizabeth jochum

Considering Kacar’s description and the restaurant’s name, as expected, Pan D’Olive serves olive bread, Companion’s rustic loaf made with Kalamata olives. A couple of slices are served in a basket, along with some French bread and squares of fried flatbread dough. Olive oil is poured for dipping, but it lacks the fruity, acrid pungency of great oil. A couple can make a meal of a few small plates and a salad. But, as with the olive oil, I was anticipating more flavor. A cold meze of leeks and carrots with rice, lemon, parsley and a bit of vegetable broth – a classic southern Turkish dish (recently removed from the menu) − lacked the expected citrus zing and tasted more like cold soup. Slices of pan-fried eggplant were bitter. While the arancini, made with Gorgonzola, steak and potato and served atop thick marinara sauce, did have good contrasting flavors, some of the rice in the middle was cold. Fried phyllo cigars, long cylinders stuffed with feta cheese and herbs served with a yogurt dill dipping sauce, finally delivered the goods.

The most disappointing entree on the menu is also the most expensive: At $25 and a thin quarter- to half-inch in thickness, the charbroiled rib-eye steak was more like a pricey breakfast steak. Walnut-encrusted trout got me thinking of how much I love the pecan-encrusted salmon at Frazer’s in Soulard, how much I love trout and how delicious the combination of trout and walnuts sounded. What arrived was a perfectly fine piece of pan-seared fish − flaky and simple, glistening with lemon butter − but with only a smattering of chopped walnuts pressed into the flesh, the larger bits burnt and bitter.

All is not lost, though. The $13 roasted rosemary chicken is a bargain: A frenched breast (a.k.a. airline cut) with sherry jus − always a good companion to rosemary − redolent with herbs and citrus, which the kitchen wisely serves under the bird rather than ruining the crisp skin by dousing it with sauce. Of the pastas, the lobster ravioli was satisfying in an old-school sort of way, a comforting dish of pasta stuffed with sweet lobster meat served in a thick sherry cream sauce with rock shrimp, tomatoes and spinach. The rusticity of capellini, tossed with capers, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and sliced Kalamata olives, was punctuated by the sneaky heat of the spicy, light tomato sauce.

There’s a fancy wine book, but you may as well stick to the wines listed on the menu, where a bottle won’t set you back more than $32 and most wines by the glass are around 8 bucks.

phyllo cigars // photo by elizabeth jochum

Four desserts are offered, including creme brulee that, while flavorful, was not set properly, and baklava made with simple syrup rather than the traditional honey, which, oddly, made the phyllo pastry taste like a glazed doughnut.

There are many seating options, including the expansive, windowless room downstairs. Unless you’re part of a private party, lobby to sit upstairs where the action is. Angle for one of the four secluded dining alcoves or the side patio overlooking the parking lot, usually packed with high-end vehicles.

Pan D’Olive is fun, affordable, lively and attractive − a good spot for a glass and a nosh − so it’s hardly an unpleasant experience. It’s just notably unremarkable.

Pan D’Olive, 1603 McCausland Ave., St. Louis, 314.647.8000,

Phyllo cigars, rosemary chicken, lobster ravioli

The multilevel, spacious, sleek and busy space is usually full of mostly well-heeled diners of a certain age, which explains the packed parking lot of high-end vehicles.

$12 to $25

Happy Hour: Mon. to Fri. – 4 to 7 p.m.; Dinner: Mon. to Thu. – 5 to 9:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. − 5 to 10:30 p.m., Sun. − 5 to 9 p.m.

Pan D’Olive
1603 McCausland Ave., St. Louis, 314.647.8000,