Made to Order: Factory Kitchen
I haven't had as pleasurable a meal in recent memory as I've had at Factory Kitchen, a new unassuming Italian ristorante on a very nondescript side street off Alameda Ave., more or less in the Arts district. It wasn't just the quality of the food that made it so (though it was almost uniformly excellent) nor the setting, which was simple and comfortable, but in many ways that unassuming quality--that uncommon balance of humility and pride--which is in stark contrast to so many restaurants in Los Angeles. At least, restaurants worth talking about.
Factory Kitchen has that difficult quality of authenticity, not because of the way it prepares familiar dishes, but more in that it presents unfamiliar regional dishes with care, that may or may not be "authentic" (I'm not one to say) but are too enjoyable to deny. Those include the foccacina di Recco, rectangles of crispy-soft, puffy zeppole-like dough baked with crescenza cheese inside and finished either simply with arugula and oil, ham and rosemary, or most richly with San Marzanos, anchovies and capers. They are a great starter to any courses that follow.
Another is the remarkable Ligurian mandilli di seta, "handkerchief" pasta, a sheet, made at a stand between the kitchen and tables, gently draped on the plate and drenched in almond-basil pasto. Seductive is a word overused with food, but it suits here.
Other dishes balance simplicity and richness in a way that only the best Italian food does, including a pancotto starter (barely-cooked duck egg with toasted semolina bread, greens and red potato), baked beets with asiago; proscuitto sliced to order with fried sage dough and fresh cheese; papardelle ribbons with addictive ragu of duckling. Mains including pan seared snapper, velvety porchetta and a duck breast with romanesco sauce were all rustically refined.
The kitchen is run by Angelo Auriana (formerly of Valentino), the dining room by Matteo Ferdinandi (ex-Spago and CUT). Wines are offered by Francine Diamond-Ferdinandi, who has assembled a smartly varied list of Italian varieties, and pairs well from it.
People often ask me what restaurants are my "regulars"--and I always reply that I don't really have any, mainly because I always compelled to be trying new places. But also, truth be told, because so few restaurants, even the best, offer that combination of quality and comfort that makes you want to revisit as soon as you depart. Factory Kitchen, though, is a place I would love to visit regularly, a place I feel I could easily while away evenings at, and enjoy virtually anything the kitchen, bar or wine steward sent out.