Los An­ge­les’ best pas­tas

The pasta mae­stro Scott Co­nant shows how to eat 18 bowls of pasta in eight hours. The point of eat­ing so much pasta? The pasta it­self.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By JENN HAR­RIS

CHEF Scott Co­nant twirls his pasta like a boss. His right hand an­gled, the fork at 20 de­grees – the move­ment is fluid and ef­fort­less, like he’s tum­bling a quar­ter along his knuck­les.

The chef of the new Ital­ian restau­rant the Ponte in Bev­erly Grove is sit­ting at a ta­ble at Cento, the pasta-fo­cused lunchtime pop-up in­side of Mignon in down­town Los An­ge­les that’s run by Avner Lavi.

Co­nant is dressed in a tai­lored, three-piece, navy suit, with his sig­na­ture auburn mane brushed straight up and back. (If he de­cides to leave the culi­nary world, he could have a sec­ond ca­reer as a spokesman for a sham­poo com­pany. The hair hasn’t elicited its own Twit­ter pro­file yet, but Co­nant says there was a hash­tag.)

“Hey, I woke up like this,” he says. “Just re­mem­ber I have the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty on my hair.”

Cento

Co­nant digs into a beet pasta, one of Lavi’s spe­cial­ties, made with a dry pasta and a sauce of roasted beets, poppy seed and brown but­ter.

Twirl, bite, wipe, re­peat. He is through a quar­ter of the bowl be­fore he comes up for air, his nap­kin a crime scene of smeared fuch­sia and poppy seeds.

This is the first hour of a three-restau­rant, eight-hour, 18-bowl pasta crawl for Co­nant, who is known best for his pasta al po­modoro, a hum­ble bowl of spaghetti, tomato and basil.

That pasta al po­modoro is a dish that has fol­lowed him, in one way or an­other, to every restau­rant he has opened, in­clud­ing the now-closed Scar­petta in Bev­erly Hills, the Ponte, Fusco (his new New York City restau­rant named af­ter his grandmother) and Mora Ital­ian, his restau­rant in Phoenix.

“I ac­tu­ally rarely eat pasta,” Co­nant says as he twirls more strands of spaghetti onto his fork. “I love it so much that I have to re­strict my­self. Other­wise I’m like an an­i­mal.”

Co­nant is en­am­oured of Lavi’s beet pasta and an­other dish, spaghetti with uni. He keeps us­ing that stereo­typ­i­cal Ital­ian hand ges­ture – his fin­ger­tips to­gether, his arm in an up­right wave, to ex­press his de­light at the pas­tas.

Co­nant grew up in Water­bury, Con­necti­cut, sur­rounded by Ital­ian im­mi­grants from Pon­te­landolfo, which hap­pens to be the in­spi­ra­tion for the name the Ponte.

“I think when you al­low the prod­uct to shine and get out of its way, that’s how you cre­ate great­ness.

“I think the food scene in L.A. re­ally speaks for it­self,” says Co­nant.

Os­te­ria Mozza

When Co­nant walks through the doors at Os­te­ria Mozza, Nancy Sil­ver­ton, Mario Batali and Joe Bas­tianich’s Ital­ian restau­rant on the cor­ner of Mel­rose and High­land av­enues, peo­ple turn in their chairs to look.

Be­cause although Co­nant may not be as recog­nis­able as Batali, he’s spent con­sid­er­able time on tele­vi­sion as a fre­quent judge on the Food Net­work shows Chopped and bust­ing the chops of his friend Bobby Flay on a show called Beat Bobby Flay.

At a ta­ble in the cor­ner of a back room, Co­nant asks the server to rec­om­mend some pas­tas, com­menc­ing a feast that will in­clude sa­lumi, pro­sciutto-wrapped grissini with truf­fle but­ter, not a few items from Sil­ver­ton’s moz­zarella bar – and pasta.

The bu­ca­tini all’ Ama­tri­ciana ar­rives in a deep red swirl; the ri­cotta gnudi are sur­rounded by gar­lic scapes and English peas; the ri­cotta and egg ravi­olo comes as a sin­gle pil­low of ri­cotta and egg swim­ming in browned but­ter; and each strand of tagli­atelle is per­fectly coated with a rich ox­tail ragu.

Co­nant waits for ev­ery­one at the ta­ble to bring out their smart­phones be­fore del­i­cately cut­ting into the ravi­olo. The yolk spills out in an or­ange pool.

“What are you guys go­ing to eat?” he jokes. With all those restau­rants and all that tele­vi­sion, you could cat­e­gorise Co­nant as a celebrity chef, but he’s quick to dis­agree.

“I think the day you hear me re­fer to my­self as a celebrity chef ... for­get about it.” He says that last bit as a sin­gle word, like he’s walked straight out of that scene from Don­nie Brasco.

“I don’t think of my­self as fa­mous. Lis­ten, I’ve al­ways prided my­self on be­ing a good cook.” He twirls a bit of bu­ca­tini onto his fork and takes a bite. “Oh, my God, that’s good.”

Rather, Co­nant refers to him­self as an “old school” guy, a guy who grew up in Con­necti­cut, and started in the kitchen as a dish­washer when he was in high school, work­ing 60 hours a week for US$5 (RM21) an hour.

Felix

A cou­ple of hours later, Co­nant takes in the crowd at Felix, chef Evan Funke’s new pasta palace on Ab­bot Kin­ney Boule­vard in Venice. He takes a seat across from Funke’s pasta lab­o­ra­tory, a brightly lighted box in the cen­tre of the din­ing room, where Funke stands for hours sur­rounded by flour, knead­ing and cut­ting his fresh pas­tas.

Co­nant agrees to let Funke feed him, then set­tles in for a pro­ces­sion of 12 bowls of pasta – every one on the menu. First, Co­nant swoons over the pap­pardelle, del­i­cate sheets of pasta in a ragu Bolog­nese “vec­chia scuola” with 48-month Parmi­giano-Reg­giano.

“The tex­ture is silken and smooth and not too dense,” he says as he lifts a rib­bon of pasta. “So good, that pap­pardelle. For­get about it.”

The tonnarelli ca­cio e pepe ar­rives and Co­nant leans in to smell the plate. “You smell that pasta? You smell that flour? There’s some­thing so com­fort­ing and warm about that.”

The trofie, tight lit­tle screws of pasta coated in a bright green pesto Gen­ovese with pecorino di malga elicit ex­cla­ma­tions of pro­fan­ity from Co­nant, who even on his 15th bowl of the day, can’t help but go in for an­other bite.

“I’m not ready to tap out,” he says. “This is good .... ”

Co­nant han­dles the re­main­ing riga­toni all’Ama­tri­ciana; orec­chi­ette with sausage; and gnoc­chetti in an ox­tail ragu napo­le­tana like a champ, try­ing more than a lit­tle of each be­fore pro­claim­ing Funke a “pasta master”.

The next morn­ing Co­nant will leave to go back to Ari­zona for a few days, where he has re­cently moved his wife and two chil­dren, and where he has an­other one of his restau­rants, Mora. Then he’ll head to New York City to check on Fusco.

“When I was a young cook, none of this was in the cards,” says Co­nant of his grow­ing restau­rant em­pire. “I said, maybe at the end of my ca­reer I can have a piece of a restau­rant on the Up­per East Side and toil away in the kitchen every night. I can’t imag­ine a worse ex­is­tence than be­ing shack­led to one restau­rant. It’s not my per­son­al­ity.

“OK, I’m done,” he fi­nally pro­claims around 10:30pm “I have eaten more pasta than I have in six months, but every one was worth it.” – Los An­ge­les Times/Tribune News Ser­vice

Co­nant is en­am­oured of the beet pasta and spaghetti with uni (above) at Cento Pasta Bar in­side Mignon in Los An­ge­les which he devoured dur­ing a pasta crawl.

Co­nant, left, chat­ting with restau­rant part­ner chef Stephane Bomet fol­low­ing a meal at Cento Pasta Bar in Los An­ge­les. — Pho­tos: LAT/TNS

At Os­te­ria Mozza, the ri­cotta and egg ravi­olo comes as a sin­gle pil­low of ri­cotta and egg swim­ming in browned but­ter.

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