There is a distinct difference between dried boxed pasta and handmade strands and shapes. No Italian cook is going to tell you that fresh pasta is always superior—sometimes a dried penne or linguini works with a particular sauce or presentation. But in the hands of chef Evan Funke, it’s hard to deny the beauty in a freshly cut pappardelle or delicately rolled orecchiette. Actually, watching it be made makes it taste even better. You’re practically transported to some little Italian village outside of Rome, Apulia or Bologna.
It seems fitting that Felix Trattoria is located in the heart of Venice along the bustling and still-evolving Abbot Kinney. It might not be Italy, but it’s easy to see that the heart and soul of this place beats Italian. The former Joe’s—Joe Miller’s famed restaurant that was central to the growth of contemporary California cuisine—is now a warm and inviting collection of rooms, but still chic and modern in its design. I love that Funke once mentioned that he wanted Felix to feel like a grandmother’s house, only if his grandmother was Sophia Loren. The bombshell actress is, in fact, a patron saint to the restaurant, and there’s a huge mural of the beauty on a wall outside.
The room is rather sexy, thanks to Wendy Haworth Design Studio, who has a penchant for making restaurants feel like home with a use of textures, colors and a fantastic eye for art. There’s a small bar right when you walk in, which can be a good spot for dinner for anyone without a reservation (they’re already hard to come by). Truth be told, you’ll probably find me at one of the little marble-topped tables in the corner with a Negroni and plate of cacio e pepe.
The dining room is awash in warm tones, filled with midcentury-modern furniture and big windows that let in that wonderful beachy, early evening glow. In the center of it all is the pasta “lab,” where Funke and his team roll out a variety of doughy shapes throughout the day and night. The tables alongside it are coveted for prime viewing, but those can even get crowded when everyone else wants to take pictures for Instagram.
Toward the back, another dining room has cozy booths and a quieter vibe. The staff lovingly named it the “nonna” room for it’s richly hued green-and-pink floral-patterned walls and wood-beamed ceiling. It’s the perfect spot for clandestine dinners, or for the many famous faces that seem to be rolling through the restaurant—unless you’re Gwyneth Paltrow; she sits front and center in a striped banquette, facing out, enjoying plates of pasta and salads with her friends.
Funke may have found his true culinary path in Italy, but he worked at Spago for several years before that. After an apprenticeship with master pasta-maker Alessandra Spisni of La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese, he helmed the kitchen at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica and then opened Bucato. Collaborating with Toronto-based Gusto 54 brings all the right elements together for Felix: Barman Brandyn Tepper’s (Hinoki & the Bird) cocktails blend the best of Italian and Californian sensibilities; General Manager Matteo Floris hails from Rimini, Italy; and Beverage Director Matthew Rogel handselects smart, mostly Italian varietals for wines. From the crew to the style, the place just works.
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