Bacetti opened last November to widespread buzz and critical acclaim, quickly becoming one of the hardest tables to snag in Echo Park. Now slightly more settled as a neighborhood fixture, this sibling to Tilda wine bar is known for its Roman-inspired menu and inviting space, complete with a 1920s-era bowstring truss ceiling, exposed beams, ample plants, and mid-century modern charm that makes guests feel immediately welcome. Just ask chef Joel Stovall, the man behind the menu. “As soon as I saw the room, I was like ‘Wow.’ The space felt so warm — I knew I wanted to work here,” he says.
Mid-pandemic shutdown, Stovall, previously of Orsa & Winston, considered stepping away from the restaurant industry entirely. But upon walking into the space and meeting owners Jason Goldman and Christian Stayner, he knew he was in the right place. (A research trip to Italy helped seal the deal.)
“After I went to Rome, one of my biggest takeaways was feeling excited to live in L.A., with all of its cultural diversity,” Stovall says. The food at Bacetti, unlike some of its peers, is not purely Roman, which is part of what makes it so exciting to eat, as the menu draws influence from local California produce and the breadth of cuisines across the city. “Part of the fun is in continually experimenting,” Stovall says.
With a wide-ranging menu that encompasses pizzas, pastas, mains, and much more, some guidance is helpful when considering how to approach a meal at Bacetti. We spoke to Stovall and owner Jason Goldman to highlight the restaurant’s five essential dishes.
1. Focaccia Ebraica
“Our play on focaccia with a bit of Roman-Jewish influence,” is how chef Stovall describes one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. His visit to the famed L’Antico Forno Boccione in Rome’s Jewish quarter for the Pizza Ebraica inspired what would ultimately become Bacetti’s extra-flaky focaccia. The finished product is round, served in a cocotte, and studded with taggiasca olives, currants, and rosemary, then dusted with sea salt. Consider it less of a pizza and more of a dense, sweet bread laced with fruits and nuts.
As for the unique round shape: “I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate the fillings throughout instead of just having them studded on top, to make every bite equally delicious,” Stovall explains. “I was actually baking a lot of experimental cinnamon rolls at home during the pandemic for friends and neighbors, so the idea of rolling it out in that style just clicked. From there, I figured if they all were baked separately in their own round pans, they’d have a better rise and the portioning would be more precise,” he said. Chances are high you’ll see at least one on every table.
This dish, like so many others at Bacetti, has the “wow” factor of something far more complicated. The star is tender, roasted kabocha squash, served with crème fraîche, pomegranate arils, crunchy hazelnuts, and saba (an Italian concentrated grape condiment). ”It’s the essence of fall, made with my favorite kind of squash,” says Stovall. “The orange kabocha is very silky, and when you bake it it gets fork-tender. You can also eat the skin,” he says. The mixture of savory squash, rich creme fraiche, and the subtle hit of acid from the pomegranate and saba complement each other beautifully.
3. Capricciosa Pizza
Stovall’s take on the classic Italian pie, which traditionally combines mushrooms, artichokes, baked ham, and tomato, also draws inspiration from Rome’s Jewish quarter. Here, Fra’mani soppressata ham and olives are held in place on the chewy, Neapolitan-style pie with a whole-roasted artichoke, inspired by the classic deep-fried carciofi alla giudia from Rome.
“We import Tuleda white artichokes from Spain for this — they’re the best ones I’ve tried, and consistently good year-round,” says Stovall. Hot days and cool nights on the Mediterranean coast lend the ideal climate for these chokes to grow juicier and sweeter than many other varieties.
Combining a housemade trumpet-shaped pasta with portobello, oyster, and shimeji mushrooms, plus thyme and ricotta salata, this dish, like so many others at Bacetti, has a careful balance of flavors and a playful backstory. “I love mushrooms and a good mushroom pasta,” says Stovall. “The pasta shape itself reminds me of wild foraged mushrooms, so I thought it would look nice all jumbled up together with actual mushrooms,” he says. The secret in the sauce is a dash of porcini powder and a hint of sherry vinegar to provide an extra hit of umami and acid, which accentuates the savory roasted flavors.
The Roman version of this dish traditionally gives the schnitzel treatment to veal chops (akin to veal Milanese). But here they use lamb chops, breaded and pan-fried with rosemary, wilted greens, and a brown butter sauce. “We wanted to do something a little different with New Zealand lamb,” says Stovall. “I do feel like there’s a negative connotation around eating veal, and understandably so, so I decided to test other cuts. I also tried pork cutlets and chops, but side by side, even next to the traditional veal cutlet, the lamb racks were the absolute winner. They’re just so tender. On top of that, it makes for a much more shareable dish — you can pick up the individual chops by the bone, like a savory lollipop. I think it’s the perfect entree.”
Kelly Dobkin is an L.A.-based writer/editor and former New Yorker. She has contributed to Bon Appetit, Grub Street, Michelin, Here Magazine, and is a former editor at Thrillist, Zagat, and Eater. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.