First Look: Evan Funke's Felix Trattoria Is a Pasta Haven in Venice

Watch the magic happen in the "laboratorio" from your table
April 18, 2017
by Lesley Balla

The gist: Chef Evan Funke (Bucato, Rustic Canyon) found a new home for his pasta "laboratorio" and rustic Italian fare along white-hot Abbot Kinney in Venice. The partnership with Toronto-based Gusto 54 seems like a winning one. The space is gorgeous, a blend of casually chic and stylishly warm accents throughout the two dining rooms and small bar. His team is on point, from chef de cuisine Andrew Naffziger to the well-trained staff throwing out pronunciations and pasta knowledge with ease. And the kitchen has everything Funke needs, from the glass-enclosed pasta room to the wood-fired ovens for pizza and more. The name Felix means "lucky" or "happy" in Latin. Funke is lucky, indeed.

The "laboratorio" / Lesley Balla

The food: The antipasti, pastas, pizzas, entrees and desserts are rooted in Italian tradition but have a definitive California edge. Standout starters include charred leeks, which go particularly well with Funke's ethereal focaccia; lacy fried squash blossoms stuffed with fiore di latte; and meatballs that are juicy inside with an armor of crispy, golden fried breadcrumbs outside. The pizza isn't an afterthought — this might be the only kitchen hand mixing its dough daily (no machines) in the city — and the wood-fired oven does double duty for things like lamb chops and half chicken.

Pasta is the star, with somewhere near 18 to 20 offered daily, all listed according to a region in Italy: pappardelle with Bolognese ragu and trofie with bright pesto from the north; tonnarelli cacio e pepe from central Italy; and strascinati with maybe the best puttanesca sauce ever created from the islands; and orecchiette with sausage sugo and broccoli from the south are just a few options.

Too Soon? / Lesley Balla

The drinks: The cocktail program is led by Brandyn Tepper, a 30 Under 30 alum known for creative and very quaffable libations. Here he plays with Italian amaro and classic flavors, like the Regal spritz, made with vodka, Riesling and cucumber, and the Too Soon!, a gin and amaro sipper with hints of lemon and orange. Wines lean heavy on Italian varietals.

The "nonna" room / Alan Gastelum

The space: The building was built in the 1920s, but for almost 25 years we knew this address as Joe's, Joe Miller's Cal-centric bistro. Spruced up by Wendy Haworth Design Studio, the restaurant gets new life as this stunning trattoria that's as warm as an Italian grandmother's house but as sexy as Sophia Loren (who happens to be a patron saint to the restaurant, as noted by the giant mural of the bombshell on the side of the building). There's a small bar for pre-dinner cocktails or an entire dinner for anyone not lucky enough to score a reservation. The main dining room is awash in warm tones, long banquettes and chairs that give off a midcentury-modern vibe. The focal point is Funke's pasta "laboratorio," a temperature-controlled glass-encased room where busy cooks roll, twist and squeeze pasta shapes throughout the night. Sitting at the tables alongside it are both a blessing (for true foodists and their cameras) or a curse (for everyone else who wants to use their cameras). In the back, the "nonna" room, so named for the striking floral wallpaper, is more subdued.

The details: Opens for dinner nightly at 5:30 PM. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; 424-387-8622

first look
italian food