DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Bestia is Italian for beast. It is also the name of a new cookbook from one of the hottest restaurants here in LA. The restaurant is run by a chef with Middle Eastern roots and his wife, who's a pastry chef. Now, this city is usually associated more with Mexican food, Korean food, Thai, Vietnamese. But Bestia, a rustic Italian spot, has diners waiting months to score a table as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Getting a dinner reservation at Bestia is not easy.
KATIE DIP: It's like winning a lottery ticket (laughter).
DEL BARCO: Katie Dip took a half-day off from work to drive through heavy traffic from Orange County for her friend's birthday celebration.
DIP: Can we get the smoked chicken liver pate, the roasted marrow bone?
DEL BARCO: This is not your typical Americanized spaghetti and meatballs Italian restaurant. Chef Ori Menashe describes his menu as Italian and soul and heart.
ORI MENASHE: If you'd have some grandmother from Italy come and eat here, she would feel like it's authentic because the way of preparation is how the grandmother cooks - low and slow, take your time, develop flavors.
DEL BARCO: Menashe is not Italian, though he could play one on TV, as the late food critic Jonathan Gold once noted. The chef grew up in Beverly Hills and Israel, where he served in the military. He traveled the world, then came back to LA where he dropped out of culinary school after a month. He went on to cook at an Israeli restaurant and a number of Italian ones, most notably Pizzeria Mozza and Angelini Osteria.
GINO ANGELINI: I see right away he was very good chef cooking. It's unbelievable.
DEL BARCO: Chef Gino Angelini hired Menashe in his kitchen 17 years ago. He says Menashe learned quickly and became a leader.
ANGELINI: He motivate a lot the staff. Ori is great for this.
DEL BARCO: Do you think that the grandmothers would approve of his food?
ANGELINI: Yes, it's very good. Absolutely. The cooking slow, slow, slow (laughter). Also he's from Mediterranean also because he's from Israel, I'm from Italy. It's not very - too distant.
DEL BARCO: Angelini affectionately gave him the name Bestia - beast an Italian.
ANGELINI: Bestia (laughter), yes, because bestia, to me, means also one strong, strong guy. This is my bestia (laughter).
DRAGON IVANOVIC: Ori, so baby corn and lettuce. What else did you say?
DEL BARCO: Five days a week, the produce truck arrives. Forager Dragon Ivanovic delivers the seasonal vegetables and fruits he collected from farms up north.
MENASHE: Persimmons are in season.
IVANOVIC: Butter squashes, pumpkins, a lot of root vegetables, like, those are strawberry guavas.
GENEVIEVE GERGIS: Do you have pineapple guava?
IVANOVIC: Yes, we have some pineapple guava.
GERGIS: Those are my favorite. I grew up with a tree. Those are my favorite guava. Where are they? Tell me right now.
DEL BARCO: Genevieve Gergis, Menashe's wife, is the pastry chef at Bestia. She salivates over some concord grapes.
GERGIS: What if we, like, used it for something, like, a little garnish where we sugared them?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK DOOR CLOSING)
DEL BARCO: Inside the restaurant's open kitchen, the husband-wife duo take turns showing how they prepare dishes. First up, Genevieve's Little Gems salad - a simple, accessible recipe in their new cookbook.
MENASHE: We use, like, the inner leaves of the Gem lettuce because the outside leaves are a little bit on the bitter side. Then there's a mixture of herbs - dill, parsley, green onions, and then a little bit of shallot.
DEL BARCO: He gently tosses the salad with a house-made walnut vinaigrette.
GERGIS: He named it after me because it was inspired by what I like to eat.
MENASHE: Yeah. She was pregnant at the time, too. So she had this, like, aura to her. Whenever I would see her, she was just, like, this goddess walking into the restaurant.
DEL BARCO: The two bicker affectionately as they work side by side. They met 13 years ago at Angelini's La Terza. He was a cook, she, a hostess. In 2012, they opened Bestia in an old coal warehouse in what was then a sketchy part of LA's Arts District. Last April, they opened their second restaurant a few blocks away. Bevel features a Middle Eastern menu. Besides running both and writing a cookbook, the couple also has a 4-year-old daughter named Saffron. And saffron, the spice, can be found in many of Chef Ori's dishes, as well as other enchanting and expensive elements, such as squid ink aioli, truffles and homemade 'nduja. That's a spicy, spreadable pork sausage made with Calabrian chilies.
MENASHE: We use in ours fennel seed, garlic, paprika, chili flakes, pork fat, pork meat, salt. And then it goes through fermentation. And that's where you get that acidity. And that's what balances the richness from the pork fat.
DEL BARCO: He uses 'nduja on pizza and in his seafood sauces.
MENASHE: We're going to add the mussels and clams.
DEL BARCO: Also in the cookbook and on the menu is a massive $75 pork chop - a fennel crusted tomahawk with the loin and belly on the bone.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRILL SIZZLING)
DEL BARCO: Chef Ori grills each chop over different temperature zones - caramelizing, then searing, letting it rest, then searing again.
MENASHE: You want that person at the table to be holding that rib and eating it with their hands. This piece is two minutes away from being ready.
DEL BARCO: And you tell that just by poking it with your finger.
MENASHE: Yes. Now, you could use the thermometer, the method that I have in the book. And it will always be, like, perfect.
DEL BARCO: In one corner of the kitchen, Gergis creates the desserts - apple cider donuts, fruit crostatas with black pepper ice cream, pear tarts.
GERGIS: This is one of my favorites. It just signifies the holiday season.
DEL BARCO: Gergis is a self-taught pastry chef with just two weeks training at the famous Bay Area restaurant Chez Panisse. She grew up in Thousand Oaks north of LA and was a professional French horn player, who also designed fashion and furniture.
MENASHE: Her pastries are ridiculous. She's good in everything. It's crazy.
GERGIS: Oh, God.
DEL BARCO: Each day before the restaurant opens, Chef Ori huddles up his crew for a pep talk.
MENASHE: Come on, huddle up. What I want to say today is how proud I am. Chef Melissa (ph), you've been doing an amazing job. Chef Rusty...
DEL BARCO: Sous chef Rusty Reed and pastry cook Dennis Huong even freestyle a rap for the day.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Rapping) Great cooks, we don't mean to flaunt. We just opened up a second restaurant
DEL BARCO: At Bestia, cooking and serving the food is clearly a team effort.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Rapping) Oh, wait. It's hard to get a reservation. So we put you on the pizza station.
That's all I got.
MENASHE: Let's go on three. Let's have a great service.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: One, two, three, Bestia.
DEL BARCO: With that, the doors fling open, and hungry diners fill the house. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF ITALIAN RESTAURANT MUSIC OF ITALY'S "CARNIVAL OF VENICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.