In many ways, Chad Colby’s Larchmont area restaurant Antico has been a hit, pandemically-speaking, a rare bright-ish spot in a year of dining darkness and fear. The strip mall space was among the first to abandon not only its traditional service model as the earliest lockdowns struck, but also its entire rustic Italian, pasta-heavy menu. Colby and company found comfort (and a somewhat sustainable business model) in hearty pan pizzas and takeout ice cream instead, tossing up a few playful and inexpensive pizza banners out front en route to becoming one of the most talked-about restaurants of 2020. Since then many Southern California restaurants have chased the pan pizza trend in search of similar viability, while others live in opening-and-closing purgatory with their previous business models, hoping to “get back to normal” for good once coronavirus vaccines take hold in large portions of the population.
Except, there is no going back for the restaurant industry, Colby and others like restaurateur David Chang believe. Not really, or not like before. So now Colby is preparing to shake up Antico once again, with an eye toward a new vision — really a whole new restaurant — once indoor dining returns to Los Angeles County down the line. He’s even planning to change the signage a second time, to reveal his restaurant’s next iteration: Antico Nuovo.
“I wouldn’t own a restaurant if I wasn’t an optimist,” says Colby, standing in the parking lot off Beverly Boulevard, having just finished a photo shoot for many of the new dishes that will eventually form the backbone of his new, still-in-process menu. “It’s always been a mindset of ‘How do we make the most of this opportunity’?”
The original Antico, opened in June 2019, opened to much anticipation as a kind of do-it-all farmhouse in the middle of the city, a place to watch the fire crackle and pasta dishes come together from one single, often noisy open room. Soon the long communal table meant to allow for speedy, more casual dining will be gone, along with several tables that are being replaced by banquettes; soundproofing hides between open beams above. Colby still doesn’t know if, in the new LA dining world, bar seating will even be allowed anymore, so the total number of seats remains in flux.
Meanwhile, Colby’s former right-hand man Kevin Caravelli has amicably departed for other projects, which means Mozza star Sarah Clarke is on to oversee the wine and service side of the equation, complete with a few more upscale flourishes yet to come. Think splashes of truffle over squab ragu, or dry-aged fish from the Joint’s Liwei Liao, cooked over the coals.
“People want to sit, they want to have a serious meal,” says Colby. “People are starved to go out and have something special.” He is hopeful that Antico Nuovo can become that place, an evening respite away from a terrible time, for those with the ability to attend at least. The staples that have seen the restaurant through the pandemic so far, the pizza and ice cream takeout, will remain in place, albeit in a more truncated way than before. Colby says that keeping takeout pizza and pints on hand is part of the modern business model, a diversification that keeps from alienating customers while also underpinning the bottom line. The same is true for Antico’s new home goods shop, meant to let customers take home everything from dry goods and house sauces to literal vintage decor items found around the restaurant.
The main menu focus for the indoor, sit-down portion of Antico Nuovo will center around the overhauled hearth. Colby has managed to secure a historic hand-cranking rotisserie that relies on counterweights and pulleys to keep spinning; that’s where the wood-fired prime rib will sit, alongside chickens and whatever else he wants to slide onto the metal rods. New racks and a centralized fire means different zones for smoking, searing, and storing foods at temperature, meaning last night’s eight-hour slow-smoked squash could become the next day’s ravioli filling. House-cured meats will hang in the back prep and storage area, which, naturally, has also been completely retooled to allow for safe charcuterie production, batch ice cream-making, and the rest.
Colby, the opening chef and co-creator of Chi Spacca, had long wanted to move deeper into his own cured meat production, but money and time limitations with the 2019 opening meant that there was little space for the process to live, and little desire to spend the kind of necessary time getting it all approved. The pandemic, for better and worse, has changed all that. “You don’t normally get a chance to reset and rethink,” Colby says.
When Antico Nuovo does come to life, whenever that may be, Colby says that he’ll be ready. In his current vision, the restaurant is even more energetic, even more robust, than whatever came before, with a menu that almost feels like a steakhouse, and a dining room that almost feels like a carefree weekend getaway. For now, with pizza and ice cream keeping the lights on, he’s okay to wait for the right reveal, when it’s safe to move to full indoor dinner service seven nights a week. And when it’s safe to bring staff back, at a living wage, without having to worry so much about maybe shutting down again.
“It was so gut-wrenching to have to let staff go” during the first wave of stay-at-home orders, Colby says, “So we’re going to do this only once. It’s okay if we’re a little late to the dance.” In reality, he’s thinking much further ahead.