Like many Angelenos, The Grand Central Market has also been my go-to place for dining in Downtown Los Angeles since I was a kid in the 80s. My parents often took me and my siblings there on a Saturday or Sunday to grab a bite to eat. l have fond memories of dining there ingrained in my head especially walking through the sawdust scattered on the concrete floors. In the past three years, The Grand Central Market has slowly transformed itself into the culinary mecca recognized today among food and travel publications. There are plenty of dining options like Thai food, Mexican food, Chinese food, ice cream, barbecue, seafood, a Jewish deli, and the ever-so-desirable egg sandwich place. If you’ve frequented The Grand Central Market as long and as often as I have, then you may have noticed the void of pasta and Italian food. With so many new restaurants there now owned and operated by chefs and restauranteurs, I had often wondered, “Where the heck is the pasta?” Well, I am pleased to say that the pasta has finally arrived at The Grand Central Market with the debut of Knead & Co Pasta Bar + Market.
Knead & Co Pasta Bar + Market aka Knead Pasta Bar is the newest eatery of Chef Bruce Kalman and Marie Petulla, his business partner/owner of Union in Pasadena. Unlike the gastropub appeal of the formidable Union, its kid sister, Knead & Co Pasta Bar + Market, carries a much, much more casual, energetic vibe with the kind of food that you’d find at a fancy restaurant or a gourmet market yet without the hefty price tag.
When I arrived The Grand Central Market on its busiest weekend (The Night On Broadway), Knead & Co attracted curious, hungry diners. No one knew what to make of this place. While in line to place my orders and at my spot at the counter seating, I was kindly interrupted three times by onlookers who shyly asked me if Knead & Co had good food. “Are you kidding me?” I told one lady. “See that Chef over there? He makes the best pasta ever. I’ve dined at this other restaurant called Union in Pasadena. That dude knows how to make pasta from scratch and it tastes sooooo good! OMG, walk past the cash register and you’ll see that this place is making fresh pasta right now. Go over there.”
It’s true. One-half of the food stall is like the Pasta Room where fresh, handcrafted pasta are made from scratch to supply the kitchen and the deli case, which carries an assortment of pasta and ready-made packaged sauces to take home. The other half of the food stall is the kitchen. The entire set-up is very much counter-style, in other words, you place your order at the cash register. After paying, you then wait for your number to be called for pick-up.
I found that the best place to sit down and eat is at the many counter seats along the perimeter of Knead & Co. Depending on which side you side you sit, you can actually watch the staff prep and cook pasta dishes and make sandwiches or can watch them make fresh pastas from scratch like spaghetti or farfalle (bowtie pasta). On the day that I dined at Knead & Co., I was very surprised to see Chef Bruce Kalman in his own kitchen actually tossing a hot pan with pasta and sauce. It was particularly thrilling to see him cook my own pasta orders; a Bucatini All Amatriciana and a Smoked Duck Agnolotti.
The food is beyond awesome!
Seriously, the food is beyond awesome.
Every expectation was met like it was the first time I discovered Chef Bruce Kalman’s handcrafted pasta at a private Tastemade food event a couple years ago. There is a big, noticeable difference when one eats fresh-made pasta versus dry packaged pasta from like a grocery store. The texture of the pasta, for instance, is much denser and sort of springs back at you when you chew. The much denser texture certainly fills your appetite. It’s pretty much how I felt after I tasted the Bucatini All Amatriciana for the first time. Bucatini is a thick, tubular spaghetti. The wheat flour that it is typically made with creates a thicker gluten that gives this type of pasta a lot of guts or density. The Bucatini All Amatriciana at Knead & Co. illustrates the truest essence of this Roman-style pasta dish. There is a roundness in the tomato sauce thickened with pecorino cheese, garlic, onion, a healthy dose of olive oil, and some bits of bacon-like guanciale (a salami made with pork jowl), and pinches of red pepper flakes.
Then there are those other pasta dishes by Chef Bruce Kalman that are uniquely spellbinding like the Smoked Duck Agnolotti at Knead & Co. Pasta + Market. The Agnolotti with the smoked duck inside was magnificent. There’s a good portion of duck meat inside the pasta and it has this slightly effervescent, smokey flavor too. But what really caught my eye, or should I say taste buds, was the sauce. It looks like a broth-based sauce with some added butternut squash, raisins, sage, and some Pecorrino Romano Cheese. It’s all around delectable! There is this a sort of gratifying feeling after eating the last parcel of duck pasta. As a matter of fact, I actually felt that this pasta dish was undeserving of a being on the menu of a “walk-up and order-type” restaurant. In my humble opinion, it truly belongs on the menu of a fine dining restaurant or a gastropub. However, I am thrilled that this high quality, handcrafted pasta is being served at The Grand Central Market.
As I ate my late lunch, I reflected on how blessed I am to be living in the Los Angeles area with the convenient opportunity to dine and experience its dining scene up close and personal. The Grand Central Market, in particular, still is a fun place to “food” explore. It has been LA’s central food destination since 1917; that’s 99 years. One can spend a good portion of the day with friends and family to try a different dish as different food stalls or, like me, drop by to have lunch or a dinner at one of the many food vendors. The newest addition of Knead & Co Pasta Bar + Market dishes out handcrafted pasta and wonderful pasta dishes. Food here really is a must try. Yes, no more absence of pasta and Italian food at The Grand Central Market. Oh, thank goodness, because I was worried a bit.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
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Pasta, Italian Food, Gourmet Market, $$, Lunch, and Dinner. Credit cards accepted, no alcohol, Paid Parking Structure at The Grand Central Market, plenty of paid street parking. No reservations, counter-style ordering.