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Chestnut pasta; photography by Andrea Bricco

Simply the Bestia

by Lesley Balla | Angeleno magazine | February 19, 2013

It often seems as if there’s a new Italian restaurant opening in Los Angeles every other week, all serving handmade pastas, a touch of California seasonality and pizza from wood-fired brick ovens. There’s one for everyone and each has its own personality and specialties. Bestia, the stunning new downtown spot from chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, is the one you’ll want to claim for yourself.

On a quiet street in the Arts District, Bestia is the perfect combination of downtown style—a big, industrial space filled with marble counters, communal tables, meat-hook chandeliers and an open kitchen that stretches along the longer side of the L-shaped room—and the rustic cooking you’d expect from a seasoned chef born in the Italian countryside. But Menashe is only in his 30s, was born in L.A., raised in Israel and spent the past three and a half years as executive chef at Angelini Osteria.

Knowing he worked with Gino Angelini provides insight into the sort of food you can expect to find here: not just handmade pasta but incredible twists, dumplings and strands, served simply with soulful sauces and braised meats. Salads made with whatever seasonal greens farmers are currently selling. And rather than 10 or more pizzas, there are only about five, all with a crust that’s been kissed and charred by the fire.

One thing I really love about the space is how it looks like one open room but is really a series of high and low counters and tables all puzzled together to fill every nook and cranny. There are stools along the copper-topped bar, another in front of cooks near the charcuterie and salads, and more in front of the pizza oven. The booths and individual tables are tight-knit but you don’t feel packed in like sardines.

And I’ve never seen it empty. I’ve tried to slip in as soon as the doors open and there’s always a line of people with the same idea. But that’s generally the only time you try to walk in because the rest of the night is booked solid—amazing for a place with a faded sign painted on a corrugated front, discreetly tucked in a corner near warehouses and lofts just west of the L.A. River. This is seriously off the grid for a lot of people, but they’re finding it. In droves.

It helps that Menashe and his wife, Gergis (who is also the pastry chef), partnered with Bill Chait, who has the Midas touch in the local culinary scene. Chait is behind some of the hottest restaurants right now—Sotto, Picca, Short Order, Rivera and Playa—which are all chef-driven spots. Chait provides automatic benefits: The chefs get the equipment they need to do what they want (Acunto pizza ovens shipped directly from Italy), great design, serious bar programs (often run by Julian Cox) and an almost built-in clientele.
I’ve yet to find something on the menu I don’t like at all; the worst I’ve had is just fine but still pretty tasty. That’s what you get when a chef cooks simply, or what looks simple on the plate. It takes a lot of work to make simple food fantastic.

Menashe’s charcuterie is some of the best in town. The board comes out with whatever he has available, hanging in a little room by the kitchen—piquant salamis, silky mortadella, capicola and rolled coppa di testa, or head cheese. The thick bread with its sour tang and the mustards, including one created with greens from the tops of carrots, are all made here.

On one visit, I had the ricotta cavatelli with black truffles and sausage, which instantly became one of my favorite pasta dishes in L.A. Menashe serves his pasta perfectly al dente so it has a bit of chew and depth; this one is studded with chunks of pink sausage and a butter sauce flecked with real black truffles. Each bite is heaven. My table fought over the sauce until the plate was clean. The chestnut pappardelle with mushroom ragu and a poached egg is a close second.

You can’t go wrong with the fresh whole dorade stuffed with broccoli rapini, or one of the most comforting dishes, a braised stew of pork sausage, veal ribs and winter cabbage. Menashe is getting the whole pig to make charcuterie, and some weekends you might see roast suckling pig on the menu. Get it. It’s incredibly moist with a thick, crackly skin and incredibly creamy polenta.

Gergis, who wears vintage aprons around the restaurant, is just as homespun with her desserts, whether it’s the chestnut zeppole, the hot sugared doughnuts served with lightly whipped cream and coffee gelato or the huckleberry sorbet on beautiful sweet brown sugar meringue and Meyer lemon cream. But if you order just one, get the rich chocolate budino with salted caramel in chocolate crust that’s drizzled with olive oil. It’s simply divine.

From the servers, who are friendly and knowledgeable even at their busiest, to the well-chosen wines and inventive cocktails, everything works here. And I’m not sure it would fit in any other part of town.

Bestia
2121 E. 7th Place, L.A., 213.514.5724, bestiala.com

Dinner: Sun.-Thu.,
5:30-11:00pm;
Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11:30pm

Appetizers: $5-$15
Pizza: $13-$15
Pastas: $14-$17
Entrées: $25-$29
Dessert: $7