Thursday, October 05, 2006
Cozy, Local, Flirty...Fleeting
The thing is, I work well under pressure. I'm a bona fide procrastinator, and even with the very best of intentions, it sometimes takes a hard deadline to get me to do what I set out to do. I heard about La Buca several months ago, and every time I drive past it (which was pretty often this summer considering it's right on the Scoops path), I say to myself, Tannaz, you really need to go to that place. But then I didn't... I mean, what's the rush? It's not going anywhere.
Fortunately, urgency finally came in the form of a remodel. This tiny Italian osteria is on the verge of a threefold expansion. While I am glad for them that they are successful enough to grow the shop, I know something's lost when small local restaurants grow. I needed to get there before the expansion, and the shutdown that would probably precede it. With that in mind, I've been there twice in so many weeks. I catch up fast.
I find than generally in LA, there is a direct correlation between the size of a restaurant and its ambiance. You can certainly find good food in a tiny restaurant, but it's usually at the expense of any sort of style or atmosphere. I've seen snug eateries that were very well-appointed in more densely populated cities like Tokyo and Manhattan, but somehow it seems like Los Angeles' restaurant proprietors are rarely willing to put in the effort to make smaller spots feel fabulous. La Buca is an exception. Dimly lit, with Ikea-funky chairs and red tablecloths, this place has understated style, along with with a touch of good-natured attitude: amidst the black-and-white posters of Italian celebrities that line the walls all the way up to the ceiling, there's a chalkboard stating unapologetically, "We know we need a bigger osteria. But for now, deal with it". Not a problem. In fact it has the feel of a New York restaurant -- somehow the conversations held under La Buca's high ceilings and candlelight seem to be a little heavier, a little less frivolous than our regular west coast repartee.
One of the best things about La Buca is that the door to the restaurant is a little tough to open. What this means is that as you're struggling with the doorknob, 3 young Italian men clamber to the door to let you in. Buona sera, indeed! They lend to the atmosphere: cozy, welcoming, and a little flirty. And then you sit at your table, and one of these men deftly uncorks the bottle of wine you brought along, and is so charmed by you he doesn't even charge you a corkage fee (or perhaps that's the restaurant's policy. whatever). Then he may put his hand on your shoulder as he's taking your order, or his arm might graze yours as he serves your food.
Oh yeah, the food. Ahem. It's pretty good. The burrata appetizer is so oozy and creamy -- a perfect complement to the peppery arugula it sits on. The homemade pappardelle is kind of a revelation. It makes al dente make sense: with pasta this fresh, slightly undercooking it doesn't leave you with hard noodles, just a solid springy resistance. The vodka sauce contains bits of shrimp, and although they're admittedly a bit overcooked, it's still pretty good. Italian sausage adds flavor to the bolognese, and the spicy but slightly sweet arrabiata and the pesto both taste very fresh. The overgrown gnocchi are truly cloudlike -- pillowy dumplings of potato heaven.
So hurry up and check out La Buca before the growth spurt, then check it out again when it's post-pubescent: I suspect it'll get through that awkward stage pretty elegantly -- it's quite the heartthrob.
La Buca is at 5210 1/2 Melrose Av. (just west of Wilton) in Hollywood. You should call for a reservation -- it's tiny and fills up fast: 323 462-1900