Culver City’s Helms Bakery is stealing LA’s culinary limelight. Amid the industrial setting of lofty furniture stores, mid-range restaurants have filled the Westside neighborhood’s culinary landscape in the last few years. And now, there’s a new chef to enter the Sang Yoon’s domain (Lukshon and Father’s Office). Enter: Evan Funke. The chef cut his teeth at Spago, Rustic Canyon and abroad in Italy. He brings his passion for Italian food and California savvy of seasonal cooking to Bucato. But you won’t be seeing the same linguine and clams or kale salad.
Upon entering the corner, indoor-outdoor restaurant, you’re greeted by a modern air. A hanging light fixture and wall display—LED-lit rolling pins and vintage knives formed in the shape of California—make food into art. A few wooden banquettes flank the wall, as high tops overlook the chef’s counter. Diners can’t book in advance, but only with same-day reservations. And the menu: Funke pays homage (giving a fresh take) to grandma’s cooking—rustic, fatta a mano or made by hand, housemade. Comforting ragús are offered alongside fried polenta and artichokes. Various breads artfully made to stand on its own. Meats are cooked on the open, wood-burning grill. Then, there are the pastas: More than a half dozen pastas from orecchiette to pappardelle are made by hand. With a pasta "laboratory," sfoglino Kosaku Kawamura takes the helm at the upstairs kitchen hand rolling various shapes and sizes. On the plate, oblong strascinati are coated with a delightful duck ragú; ear-shaped orecchiette are melded with spicy sugo of sausage and sprouting broccoli; and spaghetti is mixed with black pepper and Pecornio for a perfectly simple cacio e pepe.
If the restaurant’s ode to is pasta, then meat is the star of kitchen, outfitted with an open, wood-fired grill. Handsome chops of lamb are minimally plated with salsa verde (a common element on the menu), hanger steak sliced and topped with chimichurri and a hefty pork chop paired with roasted persimmons, chanterelles and sage that sings fall.
To end, don’t miss stellar desserts from pastry chef Zairah Molina, also an alum of Spago. Deep-fried zeppole is stuffed banana and nutella for a comforting finish to the meal, while a more refined pistachio torta, layers a deconstructed cake soaked in orange-passion fruit sauce, hazelnut mouse, diced apples in brown butter and whipped sage mascarpone.
What to order: While some of the appetizers and sides we could’ve done without (namely, Brussels sprouts which didn’t have enough char and crisp and artichokes and meatballs which didn’t have enough acid), you can’t go wrong with any of the breads and pastas. Start with rosemary and salt-specked focaccia that’s impossibly fluffy and airy with crispy, not-too-slick crust and dive into the pasta course. After you’ve loaded up on carbs, order meats cooked on the wood-burning grill. Porchetta—the street eat was served from Funke’s mobile food truck leading up to opening—makes a comeback with the garlic-y, herbed, rolled and stuffed pork layered with lardo and arugula on housemade toast and with scrambled eggs for weekend brunch.
What to drink: Since the restaurant is Italian-bent, the wines are mostly, not surprisingly, Italian. Start with a sparkling, white or red from Tuscany or Emilia-Romagna. We’re suckers for Lambrusco—two on offer from sweet to dry and under $13.
Where to sit: The best seats in the house are at the counter that overlooks the open kitchen, grilling on an open, wood grill. Those looking for a more idyllic setting (and don’t mind slow service), can opt for a seat on the front or back heated patio.