It is usually a good sign when, on a darkened street in Downtown's Arts District, a restaurant made noticeable only by red neon signage is packed to the brim. Then again, the resurgence of trendy Italian spots—Bestia, Scopa, Bucato—has made late-night pasta gorging a standard. At The Factory Kitchen, the pasta is exceptional—but so is everything else which, to be clear, is not so standard at all.
As the latest venture from owner Matteo Ferdinandi and executive chef Angelo Auriana, The Factory Kitchen focuses all of its efforts on the food and almost none on the decor. Cement floors and peeling pillars blend into the background as servers in checkered-shirt uniforms bring out one excellent dish after another. There are many stand-out options to start with—the pancotto, a sunny-side up duck egg over red potato vellutata and sautéed greens; the frittura, beer battered chickpea and baby leek "fries"—but here is what you need to know about the menu: The best thing on it is the focaccina calda di recco. To say that the flatbread (though it feels like a disservice to call it that) is the best thing is not meant to lessen the restaurant's credibility. It's just that it is damn good flatbread. There are a few versions offered, but the tradizionale with crescenza pooled in the middle and a splash of olive oil is all you need to appreciate what is happening. We ripped it apart with our hands and, eyes wide, shook our heads in disbelief as the dough immediately melted in our mouths.
Back to the pasta: A fan favorite is the mandilli di seta, a delicate handkerchief option with pesto, but we just as equally loved the heartier duck ragu spooned over beautiful ribbons of pappardelle. Here, Auriana's pasta prowess really shines, which makes it understandable if you would rather go crazy with the pasta and forego the surf and turf. But this is, after all, a Northern Italian restaurant, and the pescatrice—monkfish served with sun chokes and diced zucchini—is a buttery delight.
And to finish? The dessert list is short, but let me narrow it down for you further: Ask for the cannoli.
What to Eat: The pancotto ($9). The focaccina calda di recco al formaggio ($17). The pappardelle ($20) or mandilli di seta ($19). The cannoli ($8).
What to Drink: The cocktail list is divided into "market" and "spirit and spoon;" the former focuses on in-season ingredients while the latter offers more classic libations. Order the Sweet Jane ($10), which is, in fact, sweet but not overly so. When it comes to wine, any indecision you may have while looking over their robust list is solved by asking your server. A brief questioning of wine preferences led to a glass of 2011 maggiorina, earthy and smooth and just what I wanted.
Where to Sit: A table catty-corner to the open kitchen allows you to see everything that's going on while still being far away from banging pots and pans.
Conversation Piece: Chef Auriana ran Valentino in Santa Monica for 18 years before moving to San Francisco to work at FARINA. We're glad to have him back.