In the upper-right corner of Bacetti’s menu, which hovers just above descriptions of seasonal salads and the olive and currant focaccia that can be seen at almost every table, note the age-old adage: “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Adopted as a tongue-in-cheek slogan, it refers not only to the cuisine that influences the restaurant’s cuisine, but also to the five-year odyssey that owners Jason Goldman and Christian Stayner undertook to open their eatery.
Goldman, an art historian from a family of restaurateurs, is finally following the call of the family business in his mid-40s. Stayner is an architect who runs a practice whose projects include a mezcaleria in San Clemente and a 25-room hotel renovation in Independence, California. The revision of her own project – the two are business and life partners – began in 2016.
They stripped a 1928 building, down to the walls and arched truss ceiling, on an otherwise apartment block off Echo Park Avenue near the neighborhood’s busy intersection known as “Chicken Corner.” Stayner and his crew retained the bridge-like span of Douglas fir beams overhead, installed a partially glazed roof, and created a uniquely airy space divided into sections by interior timber-framed windows.
Amid red tape and construction delays, Goldman and Stayner decided to precede Bacetti by wading in with Tilda, a charming piece of wine bar in the left corner of the building. Echo Park’s neighbors immediately besieged its few tables and standing counter — at least for the six weeks it was open before the March 2020 closures. Tilda stayed afloat as a wine shop and market until diners could return to the scattered al fresco tables.
After nearly two years of pandemic-related setbacks, Bacetti finally came to life in November, brimming with elegant details: fir-green banquettes with wooden slats and nicely worn chairs with woven rush seats; curved cabins with orange leather upholstery; speckled charcoal terrazzo floors that combine materials from California and Italy; and white marble counters with thick veining the color of milk chocolate. The eyes can’t help but gaze into photographer Matt Lipps’ central art installation, two backlit brass panels with cut out shapes resembling kitchen tools, people, palm trees and other shapes, evoking a swirling urban ecology.
Even the surrogate al fresco dining has been carefully considered: Guests sit in a plywood structure, almost like a deep dugout, with pale yellow curtains to one side to deaden street noise and plenty of space heaters to ward off the LA evening chill.
I linger on the design both because it’s brilliant – the space gives the effect of a Shaker council house desecrated into a modernist set piece – and there’s nothing quite like it in the city, but also because it answers a vital question about Bacetti : What separates it from the dozens of Italian restaurants messing up our dining landscape?
The strength of the kitchen team, led by Joel Stovall, also gives Bacetti an advantage.
Goldman and Stayner initially wanted to create a trattoria that would be as faithful to Roman canon as possible. Stovall — who was previously at Il Fiore downtown and spent five years with Josef Centeno at the experimental, always wonderful Orsa & Winston — borrowed from an Angeleno ethos, favoring a broader view of Italian cuisine that leaves room for innovation .
Which brings us to the restaurant’s star focaccia. It reimagines the Pizza Ebraica, the cake-like confection with raisins, candied fruit and nuts that is a specialty of Rome’s Jewish bakeries. Bacetti’s version isn’t quite the original but is a treat all of its own, a savory-sweet spiral of dough rolled with chopped black olives, currants and rosemary and baked in individual rounds. Its caramelized crust splinteres satisfactorily as you peel off soft layers.
I respect free creativity, but I lean toward the few Roman dishes in their most familiar forms first. Appetizers include suppli, the street snack made of fried rice balls, usually stuffed with meat and mozzarella. (I love that the Romans stick to the analogous nickname “suppli al telefono” since it was thought that the strings of cheese that stretch when you pull the croquettes apart resemble telephone wires.) Some suppli here come with chopped rib- Eye and paprika and others with the traditional addition of chicken gizzards (mild, with a pleasant texture); Spinach and basil color a veggie reef jade green on the inside. They are all worth trying. Add in a mind-clearing order of beef tartare bruschetta with mustard aioli and you’re off to a strong start to dinner.
Roman-style gnocchi eschew potatoes in favor of a semolina-based dough pressed into circles, arranged in an overlapping ring, and baked in a sauce enriched with Parmigiano-Reggiano. This is textbook, served in a smaller portion that’s almost enough to qualify as a pasta dish – but also makes an excellent accompaniment to bistecca (dry-aged rib eye served with a nice, spicy salsa verde) that’s large enough to serve three to feed or four as a main course.
Pasta belongs in the feel-good category. Two variations on Roman classics, Rigatoni all’amatriciana and Tonnarelli alla carbonara, have the requisite presence of guanciale, though they lack the barnyard-esque punch of pork cheek that you’ll never forget when you first try a twisted fork of either dish inhale their place of birth. Still, these are happy interpretations: you devour them, you melt in contentment, you take another sip of the mind-opening wine — say, an Apulian rosé so fresh and cherry-bright it drinks like a deeper red — that beverage director Christian Clarke will help you choose. The same goes for mafaldine (ribbed like the crust of lasagna pasta) which makes an appealing light short-ribbed ragout, and the bell-shaped campanelle which mingles with a mix of mushroom and ricotta salata.
Vegetables rotate with the market, and Stovall treats it with awesome imagination. Winter means roasted kabocha squash with crème fraîche, hazelnuts and spicy saba; a gratin of vegetables and pecorino baked in cream that’s mulchy and cheesy in all the right ways; and puntarelle paired with hearts of palm sprinkled with chunks of grapefruit and (the only element most Romans would recognize) a garlicky anchovy vinaigrette.
My favorite dessert on the current menu follows the seasonal thread: Stovall reinterprets ciambellone, an Italian tea cake often scented with lemon zest, in a cloud of flourless olive oil and almonds. He uses Cara Cara oranges, which he pressure cooks whole with sweet spices before pureeing them in a blender and then folding them into the cake batter. The food is like having a few extra minutes of sun on your face on short winter days.
Goldman mentioned to me that the Ciambellone will likely appear during the restaurant’s upcoming brunch service. Brunch here makes sense for the neighborhood. Even at night, whether inside or outside, the restaurant is part of the cityscape. Joggers, families strolling, and people walking dogs stream past patrons seated at sidewalk tables or waiting their turn at the food stand just inside the door. The scene is organic and soothing. Bacetti has been in development for years, but it already feels like it’s been there forever.
1509 Echo Park Ave., (213) 995-6090, bacetti-la.com
Prices: appetizers and salads $6-18, small dishes $8-21, pasta $18-28, pizza $18-22, meat and fish dishes $35-90, desserts $9-10
Details: Dinner Tue.-Sun. 5-10 p.m. Wine. Credit cards accepted. Street parking.
Recommended dishes: suppli al telefono, focaccia ebraica, gnocchi alla romana, verdura gratin, mafaldine with short rib stew, bistecca, ciambellone
https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-02-11/bacetti-trattoria-echo-park-italian-roman-bill-addison Review: Bacetti in Echo Park features a beautiful space and Roman flair