CENTO PASTA BAR
Pop-Up Pasta Bar | Downtown - Historic Core
How often do we find beauty in the unexpected? In a nighttime walk along this downtown block of 6th Street and Los Angeles Street, you'll notice bar hoppers parading to a tiny but bustling wine bar Mignon among other bars in the area. However, take a daytime walk and you will probably not take any notice of this space. Little does anyone know that this wine bar actually hosts a pop-up serving some of the best pasta you can get in Los Angeles, exclusively during lunch.
Cento Pasta Bar started with the goal of offering crafty, quality pastas without breaking the bank. Cento was founded by chef Avner Lavi, formerly a chef at iconic Los Angeles Italian restaurants Bestia and Sotto known to serve the highest quality pastas in LA. This pop-up is only available Wednesdays-Saturdays from 11am-3pm, making it downtown's best lunch spot.
The dining experience is like no other. Solo-diners and pairs of friends gather around a u-shaped 12 sear bar and watch Lavi himself and his partnering-chef Michael Lewis (also formerly from Bestia) tossing up pasta, pouring heavy-handed glasses of wine, and chatting up his patrons. In the middle of the wine bar is a makeshift kitchen, with only a few portable hot plates used constantly to cook up the pasta. Yes, it is typically a one to two man show, where these chefs are both your cooks and servers, making your experience fun, intimate, and of course delicious. There are also two small marble tables on the side if you prefer your own space, but taking a seat at the bar is the way to go.
Another fun fact: there is no set menu! The pasta dishes vary everyday, as Lavi loves to play around with ingredients and try new things. That's how you guarantee that each dish is unique, well thought out, and composed of the freshest ingredients available. As you take your seat, the chefs themselves great you and describe the 2-3 pastas ($12-18) they have available each day. Appetizers and $6 glasses of wine are also offered, making it the perfect spot to linger and enjoy the fresh pasta cooked right in front of you.
For the appetizer, we ordered the Burrata & Baguette. This actually ended up being our last dish of the meal, as the baguettes were delivered right after our pasta was served. This deserves a "toast" to fresh bread! The baguettes are served with a huge ball of burrata and drizzled with olive oil. This is a must order.
Now onto the pastas! On our day, there were three pastas being offered:
- Beet Spaghetti with Goat Cheese (available daily)
- Toscani with Fennel Sausage, Swiss Chard, and Brown Butter
- Gnocchi with Pesto
My friend and I opted for the Toscani for its unique ingredients and the Gnocchi as we are both pesto lovers!
Our first pasta was the Toscani, a ribbon-like twisted pasta with a width similar to a fettucine. The earthy yet sharp taste of the swiss chard complemented the slightly sweet yet aromatic fennel sausage. The brown butter sauce coated the ribbon-like pasta very well, giving the dish a nutty flavor to overall balance the dish. If this happens to make the menu again, this is a definite must-try!
Our second pasta was the Gnocchi and Pesto. These potato dumplings were light like pillows and would melt in your mouth, yet were firm enough to hold up with the generous portion of pesto. The pesto was made of classic ingredients but done perfectly - handfuls of basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, toasted almonds, and a little kick of red chili flakes, all emulsified with olive oil to make a smooth pesto that coated the gnocchi perfectly. Definitely order this as well. In fact, make it two, because you will not be slowed down by this fluffy gnocchi and will be begging for more.
Cento is the perfect place for downtowners looking for a casual bite for lunch without leaving al dente in your wallet. Seriously, these pasta dishes are the best in town. Each bite will keep you wondering if all the pastas before were just impastas, because Cento pasta is how pasta should always be.