Bucato is one of those restaurants where you could eat a fully vegetarian meal and not even realize it. Evan Funke's new Italian restaurant at Helms Bakery in Culver City (and the subject of this week's restaurant review) has its share of meaty pleasures -- many of the pastas are sauced with thick ragus, and there are whole sections of the menu dedicated to meats and fish. And yet, so many of Funke's best creations are meat-free that this restaurant would be a treat for almost any diner.
It helps that even the bread at Bucato is somewhat revelatory. And that some of the best pastas are not smothered in ragu, but in precise, beautiful pestos. But apart from the pastas, Bucato's biggest strength lies in the care and creativity given to its vegetable dishes.
Here's a description from the review of some of Funke's skill with vegetables, as well as his obsessive methods of sourcing:
In the vegetable section, Funke is presenting some of his best work. He thinks harder about how to get the most out of simple broccoli than many chefs do about far more complex dishes. His sprouting-broccoli dish is incredibly straightforward -- sautéed with olive oil and a touch of garlic, and served with thin slices of picked chilis.
Yet it tastes like the platonic ideal of broccoli, the sweetest, most vegetal, most intense broccoli ever. When asked how this is possible, Funke explains in detail the four farms he's sourcing his broccoli from, how one farm is close to the coast; with hot days and cold nights; how another produces broccoli watered with snow runoff; how all of these things contribute to the flavors of each kind; and how, when mixed together, they create "super broccoli." He's right: It really is super.
Yet another tomato-and-mozzarella dish becomes new again, served as a panzanella with roasted fennel, artichokes, grilled bread and arugula, a dish that is a salad but also an entire antipasto plate.
See also: The Undercover Vegetarian archives.
And there's more: squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta; filling, fried cauliflower served in a triangular stack with salty capers; figs with burrata and basil; crispy polenta with wild mushrooms and a fried egg.
This is not a restaurant where you would have to suffer through another boring salad while your friends feast on beasties. Bucato is presenting vegetarian food that is in every way as compelling as its meaty menu counterparts.
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