A very haute lo­cal pizza joint

Los Angeles Times - - FOOD & DINING - JONATHAN GOLD RES­TAU­RANT CRITIC jonathan.gold@latimes.com

The best van­tage of Jon & Vinny’s, the new pizze­ria across the street from Can­ter’s Del­i­catessen, may be from He­len’s, the tiny, glassed- in wine shop be­hind the din­ing room. He­len’s is su­perbly air- con­di­tioned, even on a mis­er­able sum­mer day, and the res­tau­rant’s groan­ing hip- hop sounds al­most el­e­gant back here. The wines are sur­pris­ing — a lot of the fash­ion­able nat­u­ral stuff, sure, but also rare, nicely aged bot­tles of Châteauneuf- du- Pape and Ch­ablis.

From the well- chilled refuge, you can imag­ine sugar- snap peas black­ened on the grill; a salad of trans­par­ently thin sliced sum­mer squash sea­soned with le­mon and toasted hazel­nuts; and melt­ingly soft slabs of egg­plant Parme­san that seem to have been made with no oil at all. You imag­ine an­gelic bruschetta smeared with ri­cotta and honey, or a Lit­tle Gem let­tuce salad with wisps of shaved cheese, or creamy bur­rata with lus­cious white peach. If you were so in­clined, you could al­most fool your­self into think­ing you were at an el­e­gant veg­e­tar­ian res­tau­rant.

And then you step back into the res­tau­rant, to­ward the roar of con­ver­sa­tion, the mu­sic, the gar­lic, the grilled cut­lets, the wall of f lames. Have you re­mem­bered to re­serve? Good — you’ll be seated, maybe soon. If not, you will join the hun­gry masses wait­ing out­side for a shot at the pizza, the ag­nolotti with brown but­ter and sage, and the f ist- sized meat­balls with ri­cotta. There are only 45 seats here. I wouldn’t count on a ta­ble soon.

Jon & Vinny’s is the latest pro­ject from Jon Shook and Vinny Do­tolo, who are also be­hind An­i­mal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec and Petit Trois. The res­tau­rant is in a space long- oc­cu­pied by Dami­ano Mr. Pizza, which was fa­mous for its long hours and whose clos­ing seemed to ce­ment the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the block. Shook and Do­tolo are pretty good at fig­ur­ing out what peo­ple in Los An­ge­les want to eat, shin­ing it up a lit­tle, then mak­ing it pretty hard to get at, as any­one who has tried to land a reser­va­tion at An­i­mal or Trois Mec can at­test.

So there’s pizza. The crust is nei­ther pale like a Cal­i­for­nia pie nor freck­led like the Neapoli­tan model — it is charred and smok­ing, thin and al­most too crisp to fold, al­most de­stroyed by the in­tense wood heat. The menu lists both a margherita and a spare mari­nara, but they are out­num­bered by baroque con­coc­tions of mor­tadella and sharp pro­volone, pep­per­oni and ca­cio­cav­allo cheese, or ham and pick­led chiles with the tomato sauce that also makes its way onto the res­tau­rant’s fusilli alla vodka. One pizza boasts a thick layer of molten Cal­i­for­nia crescenza cheese strewn with pep­pery mus­tard f low­ers. Another, called “L. A. Woman,” fea­tures a spare layer of tomato sauce, cool blurts of bur­rata and a few leaves of basil. It may well be­come your sec­ond- fa­vorite pizza in Los An­ge­les, top 10 for sure.

And the wine list, put to­gether by He­len Jo­han­nesen, who also does the wine at An­i­mal, is stun­ning. The san­giovese- based wine “Cinque’’ from the avant- garde Tus­can win­ery Podere le Bon­cie may be the great­est pizza wine I’ve ever tasted.

But Jon & Vinny’s is a neigh­bor­hood pizze­ria the way that Spago in 1982 was a pizze­ria. Ben Jones, who de­signed the pizza boxes, has had a solo show at MOCA and cult an­i­ma­tion shows on Adult Swim; Shio Kusaka, who de­signed the sconces, was in last year’s Whit­ney Bi­en­nial, and the ar­chi­tect, Jeff Guga, used to work for Frank Gehry. The res­tau­rant may have the di­men­sions of an elon­gated store­front, but the blond wood looks like some­thing out of a par­tic­u­larly el­e­gant sauna.

So while it is tech­ni­cally a pizze­ria, you should prob­a­bly start plan­ning your ca­sual Tues­day supper a week or two in ad­vance.

There is gar­lic bread made with grilled cia­batta from the Venice bak­ery Gjusta, but also bruschetta made with well- ripened Cal­abrian tuna, the fancy kind from a can, mar­i­nated with veg­eta­bles. You can get a Greek salad, but it will be made with roasted beets. The clos­est thing to French fries is a plate of spring onions rolled in corn­meal and fried to a re­sound­ing crunch, then plopped onto a small pond of chile- in­fused may­on­naise. ( Those fried spring onions may be the best thing in the res­tau­rant.) A wait­ress once picked the menus off the ta­ble mid­ser­vice and re­placed them with newly printed ones that in­cluded a dish of charred ro­manesco broc­coli with raisins.

Is the pasta an af­ter­thought? Prob­a­bly, although it is all made in house, and some of it — f lat­tened bu­ca­tini ca­cio e pepe, tossed with pep­per and cheese; a cheese- in­ten­sive spaghetti Bolog­nese; pap­pardelle with half- gamy braised lamb — is good, if gen­er­ally over­boiled. The cream- drenched tagli­olini al limone, which tastes like some­thing you may have tried to throw to­gether for a din­ner party in your first apart­ment, maybe less so.

This is prob­a­bly the part where I should tell you that no mat­ter how tempt­ing the warm straw­berry bread pud­ding or the cho­co­late budino with sea salt may sound, what you’re re­ally go­ing to want is the soft- serve ice cream, swirled cho­co­late and straw­berry erupt­ing from a tiny pa­per cup. If you want to pre­tend that you are cap­ping an evening out at Fed­erici’s or L& B Spumoni Gar­dens, that is the ob­vi­ous way to go. But if plums are in sea­son, you should also prob­a­bly get the brûléed Santa Rosas with opal basil, fen­nel and a driz­zle of ver­jus, nes­tled into a bowl of mas­car­pone. It sounds kind of twee, but the com­bi­na­tion of crackly caramel, sweet- tart plums and dense cream is one of the great desserts of sum­mer.

Pho­tog r aphs by Anne Cu­sack Los An­ge­les Times

JON & VINNY’S — with its counter din­ing and open kitchen — is the latest from Jon Shook and Vinny Do­tolo of An­i­mal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec and Petit Trois.

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