Not everyone can have an Italian nonna, but at least all Angelenos can have Francesco Lucatorto. The Genovese chef is cooking up a handful of hearty, comforting, made-from-scratch pastas every day through his underground pop-up, which follows the kind of in-the-know format where an Instagram DM can get you trays of lasagna bolognese, some cacio e pepe gnocchi or sheets of focaccia, all inspired by Italian-grandma recipes.
A number of exciting new to-go concepts are cropping up in Los Angeles as restaurant shutdowns draw longer, but Lucatorto’s operation, now called Ceci's Oven (formerly Pasta Night) might be the most affordable we’ve seen yet: Each week he announces the menu via Instagram, offering a different pasta dish for every weekday, and lasagna on Saturdays and Sundays. The cost? Just $15 per tray, which feeds two people. That’s amore.
“In restaurants I’ve served $30 bolognese or a $25 spaghetti with whatever,” he says, “but in my mind, coming from Italy, in our everyday life pasta is not expensive; pasta is food for people, food for everyday, food for energy. So I want to find a compromise between high quality—which is mandatory for my operation—and affordable pricing.”
Ceci's Oven walks that line by offering dishes with more homey components some nights, and pastas flecked with splurge-worthy ingredients like truffles on others. You might find painstakingly thin squash crespelle rolled up with gorgonzola fondu and walnuts on a Thursday, juxtaposed with the more rustic pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans) on Friday, but the prices never change.
And while the operation is small, it isn’t a one-man show: Lucatorto’s fiancée, Francesca Pistorio, heads up dessert with a mindblowingly creamy tiramisu that’s available every night by the individual cup or whole tray at $5 and $15, respectively.
The menu gets posted at the beginning of the week, and hungry Angelenos can DM orders for their meals, email the chef at firstname.lastname@example.org, or text him directly at 818-245-2362. Lucatorto responds with his Echo Park address, where diners can pick up their meal at 5pm on their chosen night. Money changes hands through Venmo, PayPal or cash at pickup—though the chef is also working on adding a card system such as Square to the mix—and he ferries the goods to your car when you pull up.
The transition from fine dining to takeout trays has of course been a change for the chef, whose pedigree involves not only an upbringing spent cooking with two nonne (“I like to say that my parents used to park me with my grandma for a couple of months every summer, and what do you do? You’re alone with an Italian grandma.”), but culinary school in his homeland; years in the kitchens of hotels and seafood restaurants and beach clubs on the Italian coast; and a stint in London’s L’Anima before his move to L.A. in 2012, which saw him working under some of our own region’s most prestigious chefs.
Like for so many, the current widespread shutdown impeded his dreams: On his days off from launching Sixth + Mill pizzeria, he began popping up at East Hollywood wine bar Tabula Rasa, eventually shifting from monthly appearances to weekly ones and realizing he wanted a restaurant of his own. He sees himself greeting guests at the door to an intimate space and seating them himself, then jumping back into the kitchen to cook for them. He’s had to put those plans on pause and adapt, slinging trays of pasta from home and brainstorming new business models with friends who’ve been furloughed or laid off from the restaurant industry.
“I’m throwing everything on the table that I’ve got,” he says. “A brick-and-mortar would be my dream. That’s been my dream since I started cooking. It was the biggest bummer for me—I was like, ‘What do you mean it isn’t going to be like it was before? We’re not going to have restaurants anymore? We’re not going to sit down? We’re not gonna go in?’”
He’s weighing different ideas to sustain himself and potentially his friends; there are commercial kitchen walkthroughs and talks of expanding to lunch, all while still dreaming of opening his own pasta counter someday, possibly, whenever this is all over.
“Good food will never die—it’s just on a hold right now,” Lucatorto says. “But we will come back with different formulas, we will come back with different formats. I am sure good food will thrive forever. I’m positive about that.”
Find the Ceci's Oven's weekly menus on Instagram, then order via DM email or text the day before 5pm pickup in Echo Park. Pastas cost $15 per tray, which feeds two.
4/29 Update: Francesco Lucatorto's pop-up is now called Ceci's Oven, not Pasta Night. This story has been edited to reflect this.
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