A Hamburger Today
Los Angeles: Bestia Hits its Stride
2121 E 7th Pl. Los Angeles, CA 90021 (Map); 213-514-5724; bestiala.com
Pizza type: Neapolitan-style
Oven type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: Gorgeous char and substantial crust that complement bold toppings.
Price: $15 - $25
The air sizzled with anticipation leading up to Bestia's opening last November. Time has not tempered the excitement. Any non-6 p.m. or 9:45 p.m. reservation must still be made one month in advance. Since the early days, dinner at Bestia has been splendid. As the kitchen tightens up and recipes get tinkered with, the food—specifically the pizza—gets better and better.
Cars filing towards a valet stand are the only sign you've reached the restaurant. The corrugated metal façade, on a dead end street in Downtown Los Angeles, unassumingly looms over the worn down cobblestones. An unceremonious door leads through the patio, opening into a stunning main dining room that deserves a panoramic shot. Faces look familiar: I've spotted restaurateur Bill Chait and off duty bartenders enjoying libations. The kitchen's expediter's station is manned by up and comer, Avner. Hard at work is Sous Chef Mikey, formerly of Sotto. Even Slice'r Noel Brohner consulted on fermentation issues during the opening and remains on hand as needed. The Bestia crew is solid, to say the least.
The leader of the pack is Chef Ori Menashe, a veteran of LA favorites like Angelini Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza. Adjacent to the kitchen, Chef Menashe's wife, Pastry Chef Genevieve Gergis, executes some of the best desserts in LA. The synergy of the husband-and-wife team is palpable.
Bestia's earlier pies only hinted at the balance now struck in pizzas like the Margherita ($15). The rich acidic sauce of La Vella San Marzano tomatoes, subtly seasoned with garlic, is studded with puddles of mozzarella. Whole basil leaves are charred under a glossy drizzle of smooth olive oil. Finished with just enough sea salt to bind the acid of the tomato and sweetness of the cheese, the moist (but not quite soupy) center is a cohesive pool of flavors. The pies are served uncut; when the waiter offered to have the kitchen slice them for us, we declined, instead diving in with our forks and knifes. There is a light crispness to the undercarriage that gives way to the rich olive oil that seeps beneath the crust.
The Gorgonzola ($18) pie arrives filled with a glossy lake of molten mozzarella and the faint tangy sweetness of gorgonzola dolce. The youth and high moisture content of the cheese delivers just an hint of funky blue spread throughout the buttery body. Kale leaves, dusted with Grana Padano, create delicate ridges of crisp roughage. These elements would overwhelm a traditional Neapolitan crust, but Bestia's is ample enough to withstand the barrage of flavors.
The pizzas deceive the eye. Huge swollen lips of cornicione resemble an amped up Neapolitan pie, but the differences are notable. The crust, retarded 36-48 hours, comes out as a relaxed circle of heavily charred crust with a moist, bread-like crumb. The variable hole structure is gorgeous. A naturalist pattern of fermentation and heat. A faint tartness tickles the finish of each bite. There are ample bones on this pie; even I found them a bit monotonous to chew through. The solution is obvious: order one of Bestia's outstanding pastas. Once the al dente noodles are devoured, sop up a truffle-hued butter or ragu with the crust.
There are four seats at the pizza bar with a direct view into the roaring mouth of the Acunto oven. I highly recommend requesting them in your reservation now. You'll be glad you did when you're watching the choreography of Bestia's kitchen one month from today.
About the author: Kelly Bone lives in Los Angeles writing The Vegetarian Foodie. She spends the rest of her time designing office cubicles... you might be sitting in one right now! Follow her on Twitter at @TheVegFoodie