Baskets of blissfully chewy sourdough and focaccia are passed around readily at Bianca Bakery, unloaded like currency soon going out of circulation.
You eat them with a slug of butter, surrounded by beautiful people in designer sunglasses, on a quadrant of land that was once an abandoned railroad yard.
Bianca is a new bakery-café on the outer edges of the Platform, the high-end, open-air shopping center at the edge of Culver City’s postindustrial Hayden Tract, a neighborhood flush with tech and entertainment money. Here you can drop hundreds of dollars on “handcrafted” sandals and hand lotion advertised as “progressive apothecary.”
Bianca is not an inexpensive place to have a meal, but it’s a refuge from the Platform’s unrelenting hipness and marketing doublespeak. The restaurant deals in straightforward luxuries: chocolate croissants precision-engineered with butter; pasta sauced with rough-chopped basil pesto; and perfect sourdough boules with crusty shells and soft, chewy middles.
The first thing you see is the long bakery case, abutted by a small exhibition kitchen where there is sometimes a baker on duty lifting and shaping lumps of dough destined to become crusty baguettes, crisp ciabatta, round country loaves or sometimes fougasse, the lean, herby French flatbread.
There are a few pastries behind the counter that are not common around these parts: the nutty baked brioche slice called bostock, made here with pistachios instead of the more common almond, and mini-alfajores, Argentine shortbread sandwich cookies that crumble elegantly at first bite. The regular cake selection is excellent, especially the fudgy chocolate cake, an extra-creamy cheesecake and an emerald green pistachio raspberry cake (resolutely nutty, not too sweet), with a custardy middle padded with sweet, soft berries. It sells out early for good reason.
Situated in the L-shaped corner space that most recently belonged to the meaty pub Cannibal, Bianca Bakery is the product of a Beverly Hills fine dining triumvirate. Gianni and Nicola Vietina, part of the family behind the long-standing Madeo Ristorante on Camden Drive, opened the café in November in partnership with pastry chef Federico Fernandez, who left his long-running position at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles to open Bianca.
The menu moves easily between the Vietinas’ Italian roots and Fernandez’s native Argentina, with a smattering of French sandwiches and pastries. Everything is served on photogenic blue floral china in a light-filled dining room with plush, pinstripe booths that contrast subtly against big ornate gold mirrors and dark bistro tables. Diligent servers in button-down shirts swoop in to fold your white cloth napkins and refill water glasses as if you were sitting in the city’s most high-toned dining room. A sidewalk patio, flanked by shrubbery and potted citrus, is filled with the sounds of conversational French or Italian dampened by the rough din of traffic on Washington Boulevard.
There’s not a bad dish on the menu, but Fernandez’s excursions into Argentine cooking are particularly good. Empanadas are lustrous, finely shaped pouches filled with things like lightly spiced ground beef; grilled octopus in a red tomato sauce with parsley and saffron; and a molten-hot Caprese oozing stretchy mozzarella cheese.
Sandwiches outnumber everything else, but most of these are modest efforts made with Italian salumi layered on dense housemade bread with thin slivers of cheese and a few leaves of arugula. The best sandwich is the ahi tuna steak swabbed with a pickled lemon aioli and served on focaccia, spongy and powder-soft, easy to bend around the pink, smooth flesh. Entraña, thin-sliced skirt steak, is wonderful on a bolillo with baked brie and tomato, and the panino di vitelli, roasted leg of veal melded against fontina and tomato, is supple and meaty on a rugged white roll.
Penne tossed in a basil pesto and a straightforward pasta puttanesca are pleasant, but the gnocchi Madeo — delicate yet firm potato dumplings stewing in a glossy, ripe tomato sauce — is the one to covet.
Grilled seafood dishes are studies in simplicity and elegance, rarely dressed with more than olive oil and salt. They include whole branzino lightly caked with salt and herbs; enormous grilled prawns served with breaded potato cakes; and best of all, cacciucco, the Tuscan seafood stew dense with springy, chewy calamari, shrimp and shellfish in a bright-red, saffron-tinged tomato broth. Like many dishes, the cacciucco is served with airy slabs of grilled bread meant to soak up the broth.
On the patio, the Metro train rumbles across Culver City’s postindustrial horizon as more bread baskets fill out the tables around you. A ridge of high-rise apartments in the distance threatens to blot out the sun, casting its shadow over rutted streets. It’s a modern Los Angeles tableau, the past and the future in one panoramic swoop, served with all the bread and butter you can eat.
Location: 8850 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (424) 603-4353, platformla.com/explore/bianca
Details: Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine. Lot and street parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices: Appetizers $4.50-$20, soups and salads $14-$24, sandwiches $14-$19, pastas $20-$24, seafood $24-$30, meat $26-$28
Recommended dishes: Empanadas, foccacia with ahi tuna, gnocchi Madeo, entraña a la parilla, cacciucco, pastries, bread