The Arts District downtown has become the unlikely ground zero for large, ambitious Italian restaurants. That trend continues next month with the opening of Officine Brera, which begins serving on Feb. 5 adjacent to its sister restaurant, the Factory Kitchen (another large, ambitious Italian restaurant). But for owner Matteo Ferdinandi and chef Angelo Auriana, this project was the original vision for what the pair wanted to bring to Los Angeles.
Ferdinandi tells the story of meeting with building owner (and partner in both projects) Howard Klein years ago to pitch the idea of Officine Brera. “When I met with Howard, Angelo and I were ready to make a presentation about the Officine Brera concept, which we had been working on since 2012,” Ferdinandi says. “As I began making the presentation, Howard said, 'Look, I have the building, but you won't have it until 2014. What about this other space next door? Do you want it?' We went to see it and we understood that we could not do Brera in that space.” The kitchen was far too small for what they had in mind. “But we took it and created Factory Kitchen.” Now their original vision is also coming to life.
So what makes the two restaurants different? Where Factory Kitchen is focused mainly on pasta and the foods of southern regions such as Sicily and Tuscany, Officine Brera will look to the north of Italy for its inspiration, and it will have a menu focused on fire-cooked meats. “The menu is inspired by the countryside of northern Italy,” chef Auriana says, “places we went in our childhood where restaurants produced everything in-house. The difference will be the depth of flavor we can achieve. Factory has a very small kitchen.”
At Officine Brera, the large kitchen, which is glassed in so diners can watch the action, is central to the feel and look of the restaurant. “You can see everything,” Auriana says. “The first impact will be a line of fire: a wood-burning oven, a rotisserie, two grills … that's the soul of our concept. Not inventing anything, just going back to the roots of how it was done, cooking quail, fowl, game. The idea is to emphasize flavor.”
Auriana says there also will be a focus on risotto, and he'll be paying attention to the regional specificity of rice varietals. “Each rice is different,” he says. “If you have linguine with clams, it works well, the white sauce, the flavor. If you try to use penne, it doesn’t work so well. The same is true of rice — different rices work better for different risottos.”
When asked if they'll be bringing anything to Los Angeles that we haven't seen before, Auriana says, “It's not that you haven't seen it. You've probably seen it before, but maybe the dumbed-down version. People say, 'Americans love garlic, let's put more garlic in it. Americans love tomato sauce.' It distorts the natural flavor.”
When asked about the name, Ferdinandi says that “officine” means “workshop” and “Brera” is the arts district in Milan. So the name is an homage both to the arts district in Italy and the one in which they're located. “They both started with bohemians and artists. They do have a lot in common,” he says. Is he worried about opening a restaurant right next door to his other business, in effect competing with himself? “If it wasn't me, it would be someone else,” he says.
Officine Brera will be open for dinner nightly beginning Feb. 5. Lunch service will eventually be available Monday through Friday. Reservations are available on OpenTable.
Officine Brera, 1331 E. Sixth St., downtown; (213) 553-8006, officinebrera.com.