Two different early evening appointments in Hollywood were good enough reasons to finally try La Buca last night on Melrose near Wilton. Currently undergoing expansion with the space next door, you'd never know it as you enter what is quite possibly the smallest high ceiling restaurant in L.A.
Irreverence is sort of the order of the day here with take out traffic colliding with minimal on-premise dining. "Do you have a wine list?" we asked. "I am the wine list," came the response. Feeling awkward, having complained about our table, that was literally in the doorway, we offered a glass of wine to the gentleman sitting at a table for four against the wall waiting for his food to go, if he'd switch with us. The best kind of diplomacy. At one point, during our dinner, one of the two young men providing service was cavorting with the young girl at the register who was answering the phone; while the other sibling was involved in a kind of Cirque du Soleil manuever with five forks, all the while staring at the basketball game on the oversized TV hanging from one corner of the room.
In fact, with Momma occasionally peering from the kitchen and with the ongoing antics of the kids there's a somewhat benign slapstick quality to the proceedings: "Mystic Pizza" meets "The Big Night." Quirky but never indifferent.
But the proof is in the pasta and the homemade pappardelle in a porcini sauce for $15.75 is the kind of dish to write home about. Glistening waves of wide egg noodles arrive with the splendor of a Frank Gehry design and a bite that redefines al dente, both rich and subtle in flavor.
The rest of the meal was okay but as Jerome Robbins once said to Stephen Sondheim, "Give them a good opening number and you can ride the first act on the Yellow Pages." Well, the pasta wasn't the opening act but you get the idea. Calamari were tender, but oily and soggy, sporting the same wonderful tomato sauce that accompanied the excellent homemade bread. A straight forward tricolore salad provided the necessary fresh greens and acid and the prosciutto pizza was even better when we got it home and toasted the crust slightly in the skillet. The panna cotta was weighted down with two much gelatin but the best latte in recent memory was a perfect ending.
As we paid the bill ($60 before tip), Mama emerged from the kitchen in all of her silver haired glory and slowly took a seat at a back table with her laptop while the kids brought a well deserved glass of wine. You could just imagine her calling Gino later and comparing notes.