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Cucina Rustica Offers Casually Elegant Italian in the Financial District

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, at 11:14AM
Cucina_ Ed Fuentes

Cucina Rustica transforms the 1980 Western Federal Savings and Loan into a two-level restaurant and bar.

It took 18 months, but last week the doors finally opened at Cucina Rustica, a new Italian restaurant in the Financial District that takes one of Downtown's oddest buildings and elegantly transforms it into a intimate dining space.

The harshly-angled building, located at the corner of Figueroa and Wilshire, opened in 1980 as the home of Western Federal Savings and Loan. In 2006, blogdowntown nominated it as one of Downtown's oddest structures.

As a restaurant, though, the building works. Inside, the design makes good use of a skylight that runs down the middle of the dining room, leading to large front windows that allow daylight to softly pour through. At night, the same view frames the tower at 601 S. Figueroa.

One can imagine peering up at night and seeing stars on the opposite corner, while finishing off an imported red from an extensive wine list.

The structure's design creates a flexible environment with seating areas that work for different occasions, says manager Bobby Caravella. The light front is balanced by a darker back dining room. "It's very nice. It draw the eyes into the space from the outside. As it goes deeper, it goes darker," he says. "We can have 10 people for a group business meeting while people are having a a quiet anniversary dinner.

The restaurant's wine cellar and bar are located downstairs. Designed to set the mood for a quiet drink with co-workers –– and, later in the evening, diners attending events –– the novel bar has a fitted wood counter that swings through the lower space with almost a 200 degree bend.

"It goes away from other Downtown restaurants, where you walk through the bar to get to the dining room," Caravella says.

Owner Albert Shahmoradian opened his first Italian eatery nearly twenty years ago in Birmingham, England. Locally, he opened Cucina Rustica in Montrose early last year.

The traditional menu contradicts the space. It's a no nonsense list of comfort Italian dishes that includes appetizers like Gnocchi Alla Portofino and Avocado Al Forna; pizzas such as Quattro Formaggi's toppings of tomato, mozzarella, goat cheese, parmesan and dolcette cheeses; a full choice of pastas. The twelve main entrees range from peppered Filet Mignon to Vitello (Veal) Parmigiana and Pollo Torinese.

"The portion size is betrayed by the price," he says, adding that the menu has already been the real attraction. It is based on the Montrose offerings, slightly changed to fit the Downtown market. "Once we find our way, we will add more things. There is a more demanding customer Downtown."

"People came walking by and read [the menu] and stayed. 78 on the first day, the next day double that. Thursday, almost 200 lunches in an hour, and that is what we have to gear up to."

Of course, they are ready for the Downtown evening crowd of locals. "Come and try us out. Evenings are absolutely beautiful at sundown," he says. "The days are bright, but at night, [the restaurant] takes on a whole new character."

Cucina Rustica / 888 Wilshire Blvd (corner of Figueroa)/ Hours: 11am to 11pm / (213) 988-8880 / Website pending


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