Puglia, the sliver of Southern Italy often described as the heel of the boot, is home to some of the most distinctive cooking in Italy, a plain, solid, vegetable-intensive cuisine thrumming with the strong flavors of olives and garlic, rapini and favas, wild greens. The kitchen is rooted in the cooking of poverty, but Puglia is home to Italy's best bread, best focaccia and best fresh mozzarella: Burrata, the thin layer of mozzarella surrounding a layer of thick cream, is a Pugliese creation.
Il Fico, fitted into the room that housed the Michel Richard patisserie for decades after Richard himself lost control of the restaurant, is the newest project of Nicola Mastronardi, longtime chef of Vincenti in Brentwood (he's planning to stay at the restaurant), and his sous chef, Giuseppe Gentile. It may be L.A.'s first center of Pugliese cooking, a sleek, Euro-style parlor of housemade spicy salame, grilled favas with pecorino, roasted octopus, salads prepared with housemade mozzarella, and probably the town's definitive plate of orecchiette with rapini.
Mastronardi is known for his mastery of the wood-burning oven -- you can probably expect a full roster of wood-roasted meats (so far the kitchen is restricting itself to first courses), but the charred, thin-crusted pizzas are already magnificent, including a "carbonara" pizza with pecorino, Mastronardi's guanciale and an egg, and a definitive version of pizza with figs and gorgonzola, as well as more traditional pies.
Thirty years ago, a well-known chef moonlighting from his famous restaurant at a pizzeria created Spago. Il Fico is nowhere as ambitious, but you never know.
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Il Fico: 310 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 271-3426. pizzeriailfico.com.