By Betty Hallock
4:33 PM PDT, November 1, 2012
"Bucato, it means the 'laundry'" in Italian, says chef Evan Funke of the name he's decided to call his coming restaurant and pasta laboratorio in the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City, which, if all goes as planned, will open in mid-December.
Funke left his position as chef of Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Milo & Olive in February to open his own place, partnering with restaurant operator Ed Keebler to take over what was once Beacon. "We wanted to make sure that we paid homage to the history of the building," Funke says. The 1931 building once housed Beacon commercial laundry, and most recently was Kazuto Matsusaka's Beacon restaurant, which closed last year.
"Bucato is a very, very old word – to do the laundry by hand," says Funke, who studied pasta-making in Bologna under maestra Alessandra Spisni at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. "It's the quintessential laundry line you see hanging from building to building in alleyways in Italy, and it mirrors the drying of pasta on the line. A very hands-on way of doing laundry, and we thought a fitting name."
Funke says he will be focusing on an elemental approach to cooking, "a very Italian approach with good wine, good oil, boiling water, salt and hot steel. Very, very stripped down." The 3,400-square-foot restaurant will include a temperature-controlled, glass-enclosed pasta lab where he and fellow pasta sfoglino Kosaku Kawamura will be "practicing the dying art of Bolognese pasta fatto a mano, with basically a board and a stick" -- no pasta machines, rollers or extruders. The two met in Italy, and Kawamura has been making pasta in Tokyo for the last five years.
The menu will include 8 to 10 handmade pastas -- traditional pastas with sugos and ragus -- "mixed with my take on Bolognese pasta," Funke says. "Between the two of us we know about 300 different shapes."
The two-floor kitchen also will include a butchery room for breaking down animals -- including cows, goats, lambs and pigs -- from a sustainable cattle producer in California. There also will be an Italian steam-injected bread bakers oven, turning out hand-folded sourdough bread. "I've been feeding a starter that I made in San Francisco every day for six months," Funke says.
The rest of the menu will be seasonally-driven small plates -- dishes prepared on a wood-burning grill (with a spit for making porchetta, or more specifically, tronchetto di porchetta -- pork loin and belly meat wrapped around itself). He won't be making pizzas in his wood-burning oven, but will be wood-roasting whole local fish, Moro Bay sardines, fresh anchovies, octopus and lamb loin chops.
A small wine list will feature small wineries from Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Oregon and Northern California. "It's unfortunate that we feel wine is a luxury here, and in Italy, France, Spain, it's a staple like bread. That's how we'd like it to be -- approachable, affordable, drink it with every meal," Funke says.
The 100-seat restaurant includes two patios, and in the dining room expect a lot of reclaimed wood, with chairs and tables made from Palisades eucalyptus. Funke says it was important to him to focus on sustainability, and Douglas fir from the original 1930s Helms Bakery subfloor also is being used.
And one final note: Acoustic specialists were consulted to help mitigate the noise inside the restaurant. "Dining in L.A. is extremely loud," Funke says, "and in my mind when there's so much noise it kind of messes with the olfactory senses." Nobody would want that to happen.