Getting an invite for a Friends and Family dinner from Chef Bruce Kalman is kind of like receiving an summons for a party on Omaha Beach from your friends in the federal government circa 1944. First, if you support the cause in even the slightest way, you’re kinda obliged to go. Second, there’s a fair bet that hijinks may ensue. With the 27 January after-hours debut of Knead & Co. pasta bar + market in downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market, both were true.
Two important differences between the legendary French beach bash and the soon-to-be-storied downtown LA soirée: 1) Nobody died (though I expect a few, especially BOH, collapsed after its conclusion); and 2) The food was delicious.
Kalman, for those of you who might not be familiar with him (which I must declare myself to be, in terms of full disclosure), is the culinary driving wheel behind the much-lauded Union restaurant in Pasadena. A Jersey boy by birth, he was the executive chef of The Churchill in West Hollywood before starting his specialty company, Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co., a line of “vine to jar” hand packed pickles, which he sells by the case, rather than the peck, though individual bottles are available for purchase.
His partner in the downtown enterprise is famed restaurateur (and partner-in-crime at Union) Marie Petulla.
To say that pasta is Kalman’s passion is not merely being alliterative, it’s also true. His squid ink garganelli (pictured below) at Union is the stuff of which black and al dente dreams are made. His Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, replete with its white Alba truffle and near-ubiquitous 63˚ egg, is a meal — to borrow a line from Raymond Chandler — “to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” He can do things with pig parts that British Prime Ministers couldn’t even dream of, and we mean that in a good way.
So it’s not surprising that the opening of this market-stall-cum-restaurant generated a level of buzz not dissimilar to that of a hornet’s nest falling from the Grand Central Market’s two-storey ceiling.
Like any shakedown cruise, things got shaken down a bit. It was heroic to offer the entire menu at the launch, but it was also heroic for Icarus to try to fly to the sun. I’m a wee bit surprised that I got any pictures of the kitchen staff at all, so deeply in the weeds were they by the time of my arrival. To their credit — and my admiration — they soldiered on, pumping out dishes the way Adele pumps out hits. Far from being a “soft” opening, this was a crucible of fire, and those who survived will “(sic) strip their sleeves and show their scars / And say “These wounds I had on Knead & Co.’s Friends and Family Day.” / Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot / But they’ll remember, with advantages / What feats they did that day.”
Okay, maybe Shakespeare (not to mention The Beatles) might be overdoing it a bit. But it certainly was a band of brothers — and sisters — forging themselves into a formidable unit in the narrow confines of the kitchen.
Oh, and the food. We had some of that. Our first dish was a pair of near baseball-sized meatballs with a meaty red sauce (Nonna, for whom they are named, must not have been a woman to trifle with); they had apparently been abandoned by their ordering patron, much to our delight. The sauce complemented the meatball the way a pat of butter complements a slice of homemade bread, adding the ideal touch of moisture and flavour without calling attention to itself.
The bride broke into a mini-frowny-face when she saw the comparatively conservative portions of the Smoked Duck Agnolotti, but that flipped upside-down the moment she had a bite in her mouth. “Wow. That is so good, but it’s rich. Glad they didn’t give us more than that.” The Porcini Lasagnette was redolent of butter, fresh herbs, and the most delectable legal fungus product available. Even in cardboard with a plastic fork, it was elegant.
To be clear, the reviews will thunder in from all directions, so I can’t promise that you’ll be able to avoid a line when you visit Knead & Co. pasta bar + market. What I can promise you is that it will have been worth the wait.
Dried and fresh pastas are also available for purchase, as are sauces. They may be the closest you — or I — will ever get to Being Like Bruce.
Knead & Co. pasta bar + market
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.