Just after noon on a recent Friday, chef Alberto Bertoncin was grating a golf ball-sized black truffle onto a mound of maccheroni, on a truck in the middle of a parking lot in Santa Monica. The pasta — thick, uniform tubes with ridges coated in a light truffle-scented cream sauce — was made about an hour before, on a machine less than a foot away.
"Order for Kevin" yelled Bertoncin out of a service window on the Prince of Venice food truck. Bertoncin handed a young man a $20 bowl of maccheroni tartufo, served out of a brown paper cylinder.
Bertoncin, who has cooked at the lauded Italian restaurant Vincenti in Brentwood and was a sous chef at Officine Brera in the downtown Arts District, works as a chef on the truck, which arrived on the Los Angeles food scene last June. With its Rosito Bisani Pasta Extruder TR/75, pasta cooker, four gas burners, an immaculate prep station and speakers that serenade lunch crowds with booming Italian baritones, this is likely the most impressive and elaborate food truck operation in the city.
And it's exactly what owner Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, grandson of the late King Umberto II, the last king of Italy, had in mind when he decided to open a food truck in Los Angeles.
"Going to events in L.A., I saw sushi, hot dogs, burgers, but no Italian," said Filiberto. "I like the idea of promoting Italian gourmet food in the streets of Los Angeles."
So he had a truck outfitted with everything a restaurant would need to make fresh pasta. He also enlisted the help of Mirko Paderno, currently one of the executive chefs at Officine Brera, to consult on the truck, and Bertoncin, who is responsible for the truck's daily-changing, pasta-only menu.
If you're lucky, the maccheroni alla bolognese will be written on the chalkboard menu the day you visit. Perfectly brunoised carrot and celery are roasted and mixed with red wine, ground beef and tomato paste, before stewing for a couple of hours. Then fresh-chopped rosemary is added and the sauce bubbles away for another few hours. Just before serving, Bertoncin tosses the al dente pasta with ladles of the sauce in a pan on the stove top. The result is a meaty sauce that sticks to the pasta. It is a weeklong Italian vacation, condensed into about 10 rich, glorious bites. And it is far better than what you will find at most restaurants.
You might also see the orecchiette al pesto — a delicate, vibrant green paste of garlic, basil, parsley, Pecorino, extra virgin olive oil and almond — that coats the small ears of pasta. It's representative of the pesto you'll find in Genoa, the capital of Liguria, where pesto is typically made with almonds instead of pine nuts. Bertoncin adds a little cream and pasta water to the sauce before serving to give it a uniform texture, and to keep the sauce from breaking.
Just when you think the menu skews classic Italian, you see the chicken curry. Created to satisfy customers looking for a high-protein option, Bertoncin makes a casarecce pasta with shredded chicken and a sauce that joins a pinch of yellow curry to a creamy alfredo.
Filiberto gets what he can from local producers, but imports items such as the extra virgin olive oil, double zero flour used to make the pasta, and some other specialty items from Italy through the Truffle Brothers, who've been supplying this city's best restaurants with truffles for years.
"I'm a truck, but I'm a kitchen on four wheels," said Filiberto, who recognizes that at $10 to $20 for a bowl of pasta, he isn't the most budget-friendly option on wheels. "In the food truck range, I'm on the expensive side because my food cost is probably higher than it should be. But this is a little royal trip to Italy."
With that philosophy in mind, Filiberto plans on building a fleet of trucks and eventually opening a small brick-and-mortar location in L.A., some time in the near future.
You can find the Prince of Venice truck parked most nights at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (Filiberto donates a portion of the truck's proceeds to the center). A full schedule is available at www.princeofvenicefoodtruck.com.
Prince of Venice
Price: $10 to $20
Signature dish: The maccheroni bolognese, a bowl of pasta coated in a rich beef sauce.
Find the truck: The schedule is posted at www.princeofvenicefoodtruck.com.