If you've missed Evan Funke's glorious handmade pasta since he left Rustic Canyon in early 2012. If you've followed Funke's porchetta truck down the midtown streets, trailing not so much exhaust as high-octane pork fumes. If you've driven by the empty space in the Helms Bakery complex where Kazuto Matsusaka and Vicki Fan's Beacon, which closed in 2011, used to be. If any of these apply, or if you just really want to eat good food at a highly anticipated new restaurant -- then you have someplace to be when Funke finally opens the doors to Bucato, the new Italian restaurant he named after the old laundry sign that's still there, sometime in the next 10 to 14 days.
If you do the math embedded above, you'll probably figure out that this has been a project long in the works. Funke and his partners have been planning this for about 2 1/2 years now. They signed the lease on the space maybe a year ago. And the engines have been working ever since. What engines.
Funke and his partners (editor's note: Bucato's designers are L.A.-based architecture and design firm Undisclosable Inc.) have rebuilt the space entirely, fitting the outside with two patios, where two-thirds of the seating will be. The rear patio will be fronted by 6-foot-tall glass and surrounded by walls fitted with troughs filled will aromatic herbs. There will be awnings. And yes, the retro bakery car will still be there, wedged into the original wall. "It's a historical building," said Funke yesterday, pausing to make his point over the whirring of the saws, as the operation is still in high carpentry gear. "There were a lot of things we couldn't do."
But what they could do is impressive. The interior of the building has been reworked around a huge open kitchen within which have been installed two fryers, one for sweet and one for savory; a pasta station; a pizza oven ("We're not doing pizza, not ever"); a wood-burning stove; and a huge, two-man half-gas, half-wood grill outfitted with a rotisserie. On this vaguely medieval contraption, Funke and his crew will be doing a mixture of Argentine- and Tuscan-style grilling. And grilling much of what comes down from the temperature-controlled butchery room upstairs, including, on occasion, a quarter of a whole steer, since the grill can accommodate it, whole pigs, and a dish Funke has in the works that he's visibly happy about: a confit roasted half pig's head.
From the kitchen, dishes will go out through a pass that's been heated from below (look, no heat lamps!) into the cozy room outside and the two patios, which altogether seat 115. Upstairs, next to the pasta lab: a pastry kitchen, also temperature-controlled, with a marble counter for chocolate work. Beyond these cool doors, there are ovens for the bread they'll make in-house. As for decor, look for a giant chandelier made from pasta rolling pins hanging from the 20-foot ceiling.
And, most impressive, by the entrance, an enormous looming outline of the state of California done with antique knives, some handmade, some bone-handled, which Funke sourced from the Rose Bowl Flea Market and his own kitchen. (Funke's father, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, has a lot of friends in special effects. Apparently, they help out when you ask nicely.)
Along the kitchen are a row of 10 bar seats, then an open coffee station. The booths and floors are made of 100% reused American walnut. Look up and you'll see a glassed-in second floor above the kitchen where you'll see the pasta lab. Yes, pasta lab.
After culinary school in his native Los Angeles and time at Spago, Funke trained in Italy, learning to make pasta in the style of Bologna. To hear Funke tell the story, what he found in Italy in 2008 -- more important maybe even than the food -- was his friend Kosaku Kawamura, who is a master sfoglino Bolognese, or maker of handmade pasta extraordinaire (Funke is one, too; "We struck up a brotherhood in pasta"). Kawamura, who is from Japan, and Funke would talk about pasta, make pasta and dream of opening a pasta restaurant someday in California. Fast-forward a few years, and Kawamura and Funke have not only a restaurant but a glassed-in, visible-from-below, temperature-controlled laboratory, with cutting and shaping counters, rolling tables, a drying closet and a pasta refrigerator. This is "Ko's world," Funke says.
"We're doing what we dreamed of," he adds. "I'm good at making pasta, but Ko's the master. He's taken the Bolognese tradition to a new level." But don't expect dozens of pasta shapes coming out of the lab like a tiny factory, though Funke estimates that he and Kawamura could probably make a couple hundred types if they tried. They'll start with maybe six pasta dishes, then go from there, switching them out according to the seasonality of the ingredients and the vicissitudes of art.
"This isn't going to be Claim Jumper spaghetti and meatballs," Funke says. "We want to take the dining experience back where it was 50 years ago." By which he means "fundamentally, elementally driven," the way dining was in Europe maybe, with friends in conversation around a table, enjoying the food and wine and each other. No blaring playlists. No incessantly clicking cellphones. To this end, you will be politely asked not to Instagram your dinner. (As in a movie theater, you can walk outside if you need to use your phone, so as not to miss, I don't know, maybe one of the Peter Jackson movies for which Funke's dad won an Oscar.)
"We want real hospitality," Funke says, "not gastro ADD." And when such hospitality comes with pasta being meticulously constructed in a gorgeous room above you and a burnished pig's head emerging from a wood-burning oven, among myriad other good things, then probably the man has made his case.
Bucato opens its doors in maybe a week, maybe two, depending on when they pack up the last of the chainsaws and unpack the silverware. We'll let you know as soon as we do.
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