Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
Photos: Frank Lee
Evan Funke's Bucato, that Culver City ode to all things handmade pasta, turned one this summer. After initial buzz about their policies regarding cell phones at the table and their same-day only reservations, Bucato has settled into its role as one of the city's most essential restaurants. Not that Funke himself has settled down a bit: he's just as intensely focused as he was at Rustic Canyon, loading his instagram with #BucatoKillTeam hashtags and firing off shots of fresh porchetta, his famous fried egg and bacon burger and, of course, lots of hand-rolled pasta. Eater spoke to chef Funke about choosing Culver City as his restaurant's home base, that famous cell phone policy and what continues to motivate him every single day.—Farley Elliott
One year in, has Bucato become what you envisioned it would be after leaving Rustic Canyon? We really let the neighborhood and the space, which was formerly the Beacon, dictate what we wanted to do. As a new dining group, we never want be an invasive species to any neighborhood. With whatever concept we did, we wanted it to be cohesive with what was lacking. That being said, I'd always wanted to do handmade pasta, at least as soon as I came back from my trip to Italy. Bucato grew from that love and respect for pasta.
Why Culver City? We had looked at quite a few neighborhoods and spaces beforehand, before settling on Helms Bakery. It really came down to the relationship that was forged with our landlord. He is very community-minded, and we really grew with him and his vision for what Helms is going to become in the next five to ten years. The landscape is changing so rapidly, with light rail and whatnot. I mean, it runs basically 100 yards from my front door, which can make Helms a central focus point for all of LA.
With all the press you've gotten, do you think there's anyone who still might not still know about Bucato? I couldn't say. All I can say is that we are committed to doing the best job we possibly can, and being a service to the community around us, not just in Culver City. We're not trying to shove ideas down peoples throats, we're just trying to provide the best food and experience possible.
So what does your average customer look like? First and foremost, Culver City is a small town. It's always been that way, very family oriented. It's a really wonderful mix of young professionals, young families and a good mix of people that have been here for 20 or 30 years and enjoy the change that Culver City has taken.
Have people come to embrace the day-of reservation policy? It's the most democratic way to do things, we feel. Let's be honest: when a new restaurant opens, it's a mad rush to get in. Everyone wants to get into the newest, flashiest thing. We wanted to adjust for the amount of people coming in through our doors so we could provide the best experience from the get go. And so that we wouldn't get completely slammed. Lots of restaurants just open the floodgates and can't field the amount of people through the door. It makes for a bad experience for everyone.
There was a lot made of the no cell phone policy when Bucato first opened. Has that largely gone away? Look: we're really trying to create an atmosphere of tranquility and conviviality. Really where it was born from, we want people to unplug and relax and engage with the people they're going out to eat with. We want them to enjoy their food. Like I've said, it's really for the customer, to make a rule to say that there's no cell phone use. We love making this food, and put a lot of thought and effort into it. It's in your service to not do that kind of stuff. It's for you to enjoy the food at it's peak of freshness. That's really where we drew a hard line, and not a lot people like when people draw hard lines in Los Angeles.
Because we're different, setting rules, we've taken some flack. Here's my biggest problem with that: most people who walk into a sushi restaurant see a no cell phone sign, they automatically respect that. If I do that, I'm an asshole trying to impose a rule and ruin their dining experience. Don't you see I have an issue with that? It seems kind of fucked up.
What's one aspect of the business you'd like to expand on in the coming year? Our main focus is to open for lunch in the next couple months. Culver City is a great town for that, with the studios and downtown scene. I'm looking forward to that. But our main objective is to polish all our operations, front and back, in order to become one of those iconic restaurants. I want a classic restaurant. We want to be here for the next 10 - 15 years, so we're striving for excellence. This is a constantly evolving idea, but we're chasing it. We'll continue to polish, cook seasonally, be dedicated to hand-crafting pasta and cooking with the finest elements and fundamentals.
You certainly sound as motivated as ever. I'm a highly motivated person. That was instilled in me by Lee Hefter at Spago. Those skills really dictate how I run a kitchen today. I've said it before, I owe everything I know to Lee Hefter. But where does it come from now? The guys I see every day. They inspire me to keep going. When I see them get an idea or really nail a technique, I know I've done my job as chef and teacher. The new kid fresh out of culinary school who comes in pissing vinegar, that motivates me. There's always new ingredients, a new technique to learn. Listen, I'm all in. I'm 100% a chef. I will die behind the stove, striving for excellence.
· All One Year In Coverage [~ELA~]
· All Bucato Coverage [~ELA~]